Spy balloon witness thought it might have been a star or UFO
(Reuters) - Chase Doak was getting ready to leave work when he spotted what he thought might have been a star or even a UFO. It turned out to be a spy balloon floating high over the United States and his images have been seen around the world.
The Pentagon reported on Thursday that a spy balloon it suspected is Chinese had been flying over the country for a couple of days. China says it is "verifying" the situation.
Doak's curiosity had been sparked when the airport in Billings, Montana, issued a ground stop as the military mobilised assets including F-22 fighter jets in case President Joe Biden ordered that the balloon be shot down.
"Just a few minutes earlier I had seen some news reports of some airspace restrictions here in Billings, and so I thought that was a little suspicious," he told Reuters.
"And I was looking out the window like I normally do, and I just happened to spot it out of the corner of my eye and at first, I thought it was a star, but I thought that was kind of crazy because it was broad daylight and when I looked at it, it was just too big to be a star.”
From his driveway in Billings, Doak captured the images of the balloon - described by a U.S. defence expert as the size of three bus lengths flying high in the stratosphere above where commercial airliners cruise.
"Not gonna lie. First, I thought this was a #ufo. Then, I thought it was @elonmusk in a Wizard of Oz cosplay scenario. But it was just a run-of-the mill Chinese spy balloon!" Doak said on Twitter.
He told Reuters: "It seems so brazen and so insane to me that anyone would even attempt to just push a balloon over the sky, because to me it was just like, this thing is so visible in the sky but I guess it was high enough that some people might not see it and, I don’t know, it was just really crazy to see."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Beijing had no intention of violating the land territory and airspace of any sovereign country. China has itself often complained about surveillance by the United States, including its deployment of ships or planes near Chinese military exercises.
The United States took "custody" of the balloon when it entered U.S. airspace and had observed it with piloted U.S. military aircraft, a U.S. official said.
U.S. military commanders eventually advised against shooting down the balloon because of the risk to safety from debris, a U.S. official said.
(Reporting by Nur-Azna Sanusi; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Heinrich)