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Military jets over Western U.S. intercept balloon, determine it’s not a threat

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Military jets over Western U.S. intercept balloon, determine it’s not a threat

Feb 23, 2024 | 8:24 pm ET
By Quentin Young
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Military jets over Western U.S. intercept balloon, determine it’s not a threat
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Members of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command maintain around-the-clock manning of the Joint Operations Center, seen Sept. 8, 2022, at the commands' headquarters on Peterson Space Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Charles Marsh/NORAD)

The U.S. military scrambled jets Friday to intercept a balloon that was detected flying high above the western part of the country.

Officials determined that the balloon was not a threat, but personnel from the Colorado-based North American Aerospace Defense Command continued to track and monitor the balloon, a NORAD spokesperson said.

The episode bears some resemblance to an incident last year in which a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon traversed the country.

The balloon Friday was described as small and flying at an altitude of between 43,000 and 45,000 feet, according to a NORAD statement. It was detected by NORAD and the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The balloon was intercepted by NORAD fighters over Utah, who determined it was not maneuverable and did not present a threat to national security,” the statement said. “The FAA also determined the balloon posed no hazard to flight safety.”

At one point the balloon was said to be over Colorado, CBS News reported, and it was expected to reach Georgia by Friday night.

Reached by phone, a NORAD spokesperson declined to confirm that the balloon had flown over Colorado, but the spokesperson said the balloon was traveling west to east over the U.S. U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a Centennial Democrat, said Monday in a post on X that the balloon “moved across Colorado.”

“Anytime there is what we would call an unknown threat, or an unknown aircraft or object, we try to determine exactly what it is. And sometimes in these cases, we have to send aircraft up to actually physically put eyes on him,” the spokesperson said, 

In early February 2023, U.S. officials tracked a “sizable” high-altitude balloon from China that traveled west to east over the country. That balloon also was not a military or physical threat, officials said. It was shot down off the coast of South Carolina.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:03 a.m., Feb. 26, 2024, to include a quote from Rep. Jason Crow.