A suspected Chinese spy balloon was seen flying in the Kansas City area as it passed over parts of Missouri and Kansas Friday morning.
Air traffic controllers at Kansas City’s Air Route Traffic Control Center asked pilots to keep them posted if they saw the balloon, which was spotted over Montana on Thursday and had moved over the central U.S. by Friday morning.
“If you see it, let me know,” the air traffic controller said, according to audio captured by LiveATC.Net shortly after 9 a.m.
“The one that’s been on the news?” a pilot responded.
“It is,” the air traffic controller replied back.
The balloon became an object of fascination across the country Friday as the Pentagon disclosed it was floating across the center of the country and reports flooded in from people on the ground. Elected officials in Missouri spoke out as the suspicious object flew over the state Friday afternoon, later being spotted in Columbia.
Beijing confirmed on Friday that a high-altitude balloon traveling over the northern U.S. is Chinese and said its entry into American airspace was unintentional. Despite calls from two senators to have the balloon brought down, military officials said they would hold off because of the danger to people below.
In Kansas City airspace, pilots reported seeing the balloon. One reported that it was above and to the left of their aircraft.
“We’re going to pass to the east of it,” one pilot is heard telling air traffic controllers.
Meanwhile a pilot of an Alaskan Airlines flight reported seeing the flight.
“We got it in sight about 2 o’clock right over whatever this river is,” the pilot said.
Pilots were reporting that the balloon was soaring at or above 50,000 feet, which is higher than the altitude for most commercial airplanes. The balloon, however, may have made a sudden descent
“That object that we’re talking about that was at our 3 o’clock, about a minute and a half ago, I saw, the captain saw it dive about 20,000 feet in seconds and then it was below us. That’s what it appears now and to our 4 o’clock position.”
The balloon was said to be around 50 miles north of Kansas City.
We have had several reports across northwest MO of a large balloon visible on the horizon. It is now visible from our office in Pleasant Hill and the KC Metro. We have confirmed that it is not an NWS weather balloon. pic.twitter.com/CKQWOw7God
— NWS Kansas City (@NWSKansasCity) February 3, 2023
A pilot passing Kansas City International Airport reported that they didn’t see any drop in the balloon’s altitude.
At about 11:30 a.m., the National Weather Service in Kansas City reported on social media that it had received several reports across northwest Missouri of a large balloon visible on the horizon.
“It is now visible from our office in Pleasant Hill and the KC Metro,” the weather service said. “We have confirmed that it is not an NWS weather balloon.”
Elected officials respond
Missouri’s two senators on Friday called for the United States to take down the balloon.
“SHOOT IT DOWN,” Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who sits on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, tweeted.
Hawley has also called for the committee to hold public hearings immediately.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, a freshman Missouri Republican who took office last month, said the U.S. should “take it down.”
Schmitt said in a tweet that he had just been assigned to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, “but I’m going to go out on a limb and say we shouldn’t have a Chinese spy balloon floating over the United States of America.”
The balloon, which U.S. officials say is a surveillance vehicle, has quickly captured public fascination. Shooting it down has been ruled out as an option for now, officials have said, because of the potential risks to people on the ground.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, wouldn’t say if the military would shoot it down once it goes over a body of water.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Friday he had received “zero communication” from the Biden administration as the balloon wafted east across the state, with sightings reported in Columbia after it passed over Kansas City.
“We have heard no explanation or plan to remove it. Why has this been allowed to reach our heartland? Why has it not been eliminated?” Parson, a Republican, said on Twitter.
Parson said his office would remain in contact with the Missouri National Guard and law enforcement agencies in the state “to monitor the safety of Missourians.” The balloon gripped residents as it slowly moved across Missouri, home to Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood.
In the Republican-dominated state, GOP officials swiftly condemned Democratic President Joe Biden for not shooting down the plane, despite the Pentagon recommendation against a strike because of the risk a large debris field could cause to people on the ground.