Search for unidentified objects downed over Yukon and Lake Huron called off

Avatar for Skies MagazineBy Skies Magazine | February 21, 2023

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 35 seconds.

Separate searches for two unidentified high-altitude objects that were shot down by U.S. Air Force (USAF) fighter jets earlier this month have been suspended by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) after less than a week.

Following a technical briefing with Canadian officials on Feb. 13, the RCMP — with the help of two Canadian Coast Guard helicopters and one ship — began an “extensive search” in the Lake Huron area for debris of the object that was shot down on Feb. 12 by a USAF F-16.

However, just three days later, the RCMP issued a statement confirming that the “decision was reached to suspend the [Lake Huron] search due to several factors, including deteriorating weather and the low probability of recovery.”

The statement confirmed that the search and recovery efforts in the Yukon, however, were ongoing.

RCAF Globemaster and Twin Otters on ramp
The Royal Canadian Air Force assisted the Yukon search with an Air Task Force. Simon Blakesley Photo

Canadian Special Operations Forces Command coordinated the search for the object downed over Yukon on Feb. 11 by a USAF F-22. In addition to support from the RCMP, the Royal Canadian Air Force assisted the search with an Air Task Force, including a CC-130H Hercules from 435 Squadron; two CC-138 Twin Otters from 440 Squadron; a CC-177 Globemaster III from 429 Squadron; a CH-148 Cyclone from 443 Squadron; a CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Squadron; and a CC-144 Challenger from 412 Squadron.

The search was expected to be challenging due to the rugged and snow-covered terrain in the area where the object went down – between Dawson City and Mayo, Yukon.

RCAF CC-130H Hercules
A CC-130H Hercules from 435 Squadron spotted at Whitehorse airport, Yukon, the week of Feb. 13. Simon Blakesley Photo

In an email to Skies on Feb. 16, a Canadian Armed Forces spokesperson said: “Given that the debris is located in a remote location northeast of Dawson City — with a search area covering nearly 3,000 square kilometers of complex alpine terrain, with deep snow cover, that is subject to harsh weather conditions — the search is expected to be difficult, and may take time. These are difficult research conditions and the Royal Canadian Air Force is doing everything we can to carry out this mission successfully, while ensuring the safety of our personnel.”

A day later, on Feb. 17, the RCMP issued a statement confirming that search efforts in Yukon have been discontinued, “given the snowfall that has occurred, the decreasing probability the object will be found, and the current belief the object is not tied to a scenario that justifies extraordinary search efforts.

RCAF CH-148 Cyclone helicopter hovering
A CH-148 Cyclone from 443 Squadron assisted search efforts in Yukon. Simon Blakesley Photo

“The highest probability area has been searched, and the debris was not located,” the statement reads.

However, recent reports have suggested that the object downed over Yukon could very well have been a pico balloon that belonged to a small, U.S.-based hobby club, called the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade.

While Canadian officials have not yet confirmed this theory, the hobby club reportedly received its last transmission from one of its balloons on Feb. 11 – the same day the unidentified object was shot down over Yukon. A CBC News report says the balloon was near Hagemeister Island, off the southwest corner of Alaska, and was heading towards Yukon. The balloon was on its seventh circumnavigation around the world.

RCAF CH-149 Cormorant and CC-144 Challenger
A CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Squadron and a CC-144 Challenger from 412 Squadron took part in the Yukon search efforts. The Challenger was used to transport personnel. Simon Blakesley Photo

The high-altitude objects over Lake Huron and Yukon were two of four objects that were shot down over North America in February. The first object — the only object that has been identified — was a Chinese spy balloon, which was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4 by an F-22 Raptor. The second object, which remains unidentified, was shot down by another F-22 over the Beaufort Sea on Feb. 10. The Yukon and Lake Huron objects followed on Feb. 11 and Feb. 12, respectively.

Search efforts for all three of the unidentified objects have officially been called off.

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