A hobby group may have the answer to what the U.S. shot down over Canada last week

Last updated on February 17, 2023

President Joe Biden on Thursday said the U.S. still doesn’t know what it shot down in the skies over North America last weekend, when Air Force fighter jets took out three car-sized objects flying over Alaska, the Yukon and Lake Huron.

He did, however, say they were “most likely balloons.” And as it turns out, there’s a group of hobbyists in Illinois that says one of its balloons is missing.

The Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade, in a blog post that was first reported by Aviation Week, says one of its balloons went “missing in action” in the same region the U.S. military shot down one of the three unknown objects.

On Tuesday, the group said one of its balloons was last spotted at 12:48 a.m. on Saturday along an uninhabited island off the coast of Alaska. That tracks with when a U.S. F-22 used a Sidewinder missile to shoot down an object over the Yukon later that same day. Canadian officials have since said the debris will be extremely difficult to retrieve due to the frozen terrain and the remoteness of the site.

The club’s balloon had a long journey, traveling for 123 days and 18 hours of flight before — possibly — being shot out of the sky. “For now we are calling Pico Balloon K9YO Missing in Action,” the club’s website says, without making any accusations or connecting the incident to the military shootdown.

“I have no information for you from NORAD on the objects,” said Air Force Col. Elizabeth Mathias, a spokesperson from the North American Aerospace Defense Command. “I understand FBI spoke with that hobby group, and I expect the [National Security Council] task force to have more on the potential identification of the objects.”

POLITICO has reached out to the club for comment. The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The brigade flies pico balloons, which are filled with hydrogen and carry a transmitter with GPS tracking. The balloons rise to 47,000 feet, the group says on its website. The Yukon object was reported to be floating around 40,000 feet.

“As we travel, our GPS is able to locate our current location, and other information is gathered depending on what chips we have on our transmitter while using other programs to gather other inflight information,” the group says on its website.

In a speech on Thursday, Biden noted that the objects are still being investigated, and he backed up previous comments from U.S. officials who said the objects probably aren’t from China and are most likely “benign.”

“The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research,” Biden said.

The Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade, which formed two years ago, got its name from the children’s film “Up”. The founders drew inspiration from the Ellie Badge, a grape soda bottle cap on a pin that’s a prized possession for the main character in the movie.

“There were 10 of us to start, aged 11 years old and up, kids, their parents and friends, some licensed in Amateur Radio some having an interest in science and engineering,” according to the website. “We met monthly to research and report and had our first launch on September 25th 2021.”