Did a large white balloon fly over the Big Island? U.S. Indo-Pacific Command not saying much
Updated at 1:15 p.m. on Feb. 20
Is there a large white balloon floating toward the U.S. West Coast after supposedly flying over the Big Island early this morning? No one knows for sure right now, but sightings have been reported and there’s been enough chatter that it spurred the National Weather Service to forecast a possible track for the unidentified object.
The U.S. military acknowledged it has heard about reports of a large white balloon traveling at about 40,000 to 50,000 feet over the Pacific. But it isn’t saying much more.
According to a model based on the original sighting location, the balloon would now be several hundred miles east of Hawai‘i.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees military action in a region that encompasses about half the earth’s surface, stretching from the waters off the U.S. West Coast to the western border of India and from Antarctica to the North Pole and is headquartered at Camp H.M. Smith just outside Honolulu, on Sunday confirmed the reports, according to American Military News, one of the most read military and foreign affairs news outlets in the world.
However, there still has been no official government confirmation of the balloon itself.
“U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is aware of the reports of a large white balloon by civilian aircraft. We are looking into the reports and have nothing additional at this time,” the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command told The Drive, the military news outlet said.
The command told Big Island Now at about 11 a.m. Monday that it is continuing to look into the reports of the balloon.
The Drive also reported Sunday that a Navy P-8 Poseidon was heading in the direction of where the balloon was reported just before it dropped off the tracker, but could not say if it was searching for the balloon or observing it. P-8s often reposition back to the mainland along similar routes.
On Sunday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration began notifying pilots about sightings of the large white balloon, according to multiple aviation reports. A report from the Oakland Oceanic Air Traffic Control Center said a large white balloon was spotted about 594 miles northeast of Honolulu.
Based on National Weather Service forecast models that took into account the prevailing winds and altitude at which the balloon was sighted, it was expected to fly over the Big Island early Monday, from about midnight to 2 a.m., reported Weatherboy.
The balloon would have moved south and west toward the Big island, crossing over the Kona side at about 39,000 feet. From there, winds would have carried it south of the island before it began to curve east and eventually east-northeast. If there is a balloon and it is still flying at that altitude, it could enter California airspace during the next few days.
“Pilots and air traffic controllers have been using the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS for short, to alert each other of the presence of a balloon at an altitude many aircraft fly at,” Weatherboy said.
One such report said to “Advise ATC (Air Traffic Control) if object is seen.”
This latest balloon incident comes a little more than two weeks after U.S. F-22 fighter jets shot down a “Chinese spy balloon” off the coast of South Carolina. The balloon, first spotted Feb. 1 hovering over Montana, spent a week traveling through the skies of the United States mainland before it was taken down.
A year ago, another large balloon was seen off Kaua‘i, near a sensitive missile defense test site. F-22 fighter jets were scrambled from Honolulu to inspect the object, which was confirmed to be an unmanned balloon with no identification markings. Some speculate the balloon spotted on Valentine’s Day 2022 was also part of the Chinese spy program; however, military officials have declined to say if it was.
The U.S. military also shot down three unidentified flying objects in American and Canadian airspace a week ago. President Joe Biden has said there is no evidence that the UFOs were related to surveillance operations of a foreign nation.
“We don’t yet know exactly what these three objects were,” Biden said, according to CBS News. “But nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from … any other country. The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were mostly balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research.”
One of the objects was even thought to be a $12 hobby balloon belonging to the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade that had circumnavigated the world six times during a 123-day span before its tracker went dark.