Search for debris continues after Duluth-based fighter wing shoots down unidentified object
Airmen from the 148th took off from Madison, completed the mission and returned safely, the Minnesota governor tweeted.
DULUTH — An F-16 from the Minnesota Air National Guard's 148th Fighter Wing shot down an unidentified object over Lake Huron on Sunday. Officials are now searching for the debris, which likely fell into deep Canadian water.
The Duluth-based fighter wing, which flies F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets, took off from Madison, Wisconsin, "to shoot down a flying object over Lake Huron as part of a federal mission," Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said in a tweet Sunday evening.
"The Bulldogs executed their mission flawlessly, protected the homeland, and got the birds home safe," Walz said.
I’m proud of the airmen in the @148FW, based out of Duluth, who earlier today took off from Madison, WI to shoot down a flying object over Lake Huron as part of a federal mission. The Bulldogs executed their mission flawlessly, protected the homeland, and got the birds home safe.— Governor Tim Walz (@GovTimWalz) February 13, 2023
It's the third unidentified object shot down over the U.S. and Canada in as many days. The shootdowns come after a Chinese spying balloon was brought down Feb. 4 off the coast of South Carolina after crossing much of the country.
Reuters reported that the military is trying to recover debris from the object, which likely fell in Canadian waters.
"The object over Lake Huron now lies in what is probably very deep water," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in a White House news conference Monday.
A U.S. Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon, a maritime patrol aircraft specializing in searching for submarines, passed over the Canadian side of Lake Huron Monday afternoon, according to a live track of the aircraft's flight.
Few details have been shared on the three objects downed since Friday.
Airmen and F-16s from the 148th have been at Madison's Truax Field in recent months, according to photos by the Instagram account @badger_wings , a Madison-based aviation photographer.
The Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing retired its last F-16 in early October and other units have been filling in until the 115th converts to the F-35 Lightning II aircraft later this spring.
"A small contingent of F-16s from other units will temporarily operate from Truax Field to conduct homeland defense training while the 115th Fighter Wing transitions to its new airframe," the 115th Fighter Wing said in an October news release.
On Monday morning a spokesperson from the 148th confirmed the Fighter Wing responded to the object over Lake Huron but declined to comment further on the mission and why the 148th had airmen and F-16s in Madison. The spokesperson said additional information would come from the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD. A spokesperson at NORAD said the only on-the-record material about Sunday's mission was a transcription of a Sunday news conference.
The F-16 fired an AIM9x Sidewinder missile and downed the object at 2:42 p.m. EST at the direction of President Joe Biden based on recommendations from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and military leadership, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a news release Sunday.
"The location chosen for this shoot down afforded us the opportunity to avoid impact to people on the ground while improving chances for debris recovery," the Department of Defense said in its release. "There are no indications of any civilians hurt or otherwise affected."
Two F-16s landed at Truax Field at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, both with "DULUTH" on the tails, according photos by Instagram accounts @Badger_Wings and @jac_AirAndSpace. The photographers said each plane landed with an empty underwing station where missiles are typically mounted.
According to Bloomberg News, the White House said Sunday it’s too early to definitively describe the object shot down Sunday. It was spotted at about 20,000 feet, an altitude that was assessed to pose risks to civilian flights.
Reuters reported Sunday that U.S. Air Force General Glen VanHerck told reporters it was unclear what the objects are, where they originated and how they remain airborne.
"We're calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason," said VanHerck, the head NORAD and Northern Command.
NORAD is responsible with defending North American airspace.
The Department of Defense said NORAD was tracking the object visually and by radar since Sunday morning. It also said it was likely the same object briefly detected over Montana on Saturday.
"Based on its flight path and data we can reasonably connect this object to the radar signal picked up over Montana, which flew in proximity to sensitive (Department of Defense) sites," the department said.
VanHerck said he believed this month’s shootdowns mark the first time NORAD or the United States Northern Command took “kinetic action against an airborne object” in U.S. airspace, according to the transcript of a Sunday news conference.
NORAD was established in 1958 and Northern Command was established in 2002.
If the object shot down in U.S. airspace on Sunday is confirmed to be from another country, it wouldn’t be the first foreign object downed over the lower 48 states by aircraft.
In World War II, Japan launched many bomb-carrying balloons from within its country. Prevailing winds would then carry balloons across the Pacific Ocean and over North America.
According to a 1973 article in the “Smithsonian Annals of Flight” by Robert Mikesh, a combat pilot and Smithsonian curator, some of the balloons were shot down from the ground or from a ship, but two were shot down by U.S. Army Air Force aircraft: one over California in February 1945 and another over Nevada a month later. Another was shot down by the Royal Canadian Air Force over Sumas, Washington, which sits on the U.S.-Canada border, in February 1945.
This story was updated several times with additional information from officials, photographers and historical documents. The final version was published at 5:41 p.m. Feb. 12. The initial version was posted at 9:16 p.m. Feb. 12.