Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
US jet downs unknown object off Alaska coast cited as threat to flights
WASHINGTON — A U.S. military fighter jet shot down an unknown object flying off the coast of Alaska on Friday on orders from President Joe Biden, White House officials said.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the object was downed because it was flying at about 40,000 feet and posed a “reasonable threat” to the safety of civilian flights, not because of any knowledge that it was engaged in surveillance.
Asked about the object’s downing, Biden on Friday said only that “it was a success.”
Kirby described the object as roughly the size of a small car, much smaller than the massive suspected Chinese spy balloon downed by Air Force fight jets Feb. 4 off the coast of South Carolina after it transited over sensitive military sites across the continental U.S.
China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian craft and threatened repercussions.
There were few answers about the object and the White House drew distinctions between the two episodes. Officials couldn’t say if the unknown object downed Friday contained any surveillance equipment, where it came from or what purpose it had.
The Pentagon on Friday declined to provide a more precise description of the object, only saying that U.S. pilots who flew up to observe it determined it didn’t appear to be manned. Officials said the object did not appear to be maneuverable.
Kirby said that Biden, based on the advice of the Pentagon, believed it posed enough of a concern to shoot it out of the sky — primarily because of the potential risk to civilian aircraft.
The president was briefed on the presence of the object Thursday evening after two fighter jets surveilled it.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said an F-22 fighter aircraft based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson shot down the object using the same type of missile used to take down the balloon last Saturday.
Ahead of the shoot-down, the Federal Aviation Administration restricted flights over a roughly 10-squaremile area within U.S. airspace off Alaska’s Bullen Point, the site of a disused Air Force radar station.
The object fell onto frozen waters and officials expected they could recover debris faster than from last week’s massive balloon. Ryder said several U.S. military helicopters have gone out to begin the recovery effort.
The unknown object was shot down in an area with harsh weather conditions. Daytime temperatures Friday were about minus 17 degrees.