PHOENIX, Az. – Air Force fighter jets shot down an errant weather balloon over the Arizona desert on Friday, a spokesperson for Luke Air Force Base told The Arizona Republic. “We received a call from NORAD informing us that an unauthorized object had entered Arizona airspace,” said Brigadier General J.B. Harris, commander of the 56th Fighter Wing.
Shortly after receiving the call, two F-35 Joint Strike Fighters took off from Luke AFB. The fighter pilots, according to Brig. Gen. Harris, had orders to bring down the weather balloon before it could reach the city of Phoenix, where a ground impact could potentially cause damage to local homes and businesses. “Our pilots made contact with the object at approximately 2:55 a.m. local time,” Brig. Gen. Harris said. “At that time they were able to safely bring down the object in a remote area north of Prescott National Forest.”
As of Friday morning, a joint task force made up of soldiers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and agents from the FBI’s Phoenix office were on the scene to assist with the cleanup effort. “Due to unusually high levels of radiation coming from the debris field, we’ve cordoned off a five-mile perimeter around the crash site,” FBI Special Agent Adam Cooke told FOX 10 Phoenix, adding that members of the media as well as the general public have been asked to maintain a safe distance to allow authorities space to do their job.
According to Rusty Anderson, a retired airline pilot and amateur astronomer living in the Phoenix area, guidance systems found in modern weather balloons contain “trace amounts” of radioactive material which allow them to become “more visible” on traditional radar. “Simply put, it works as a sort of beacon,” Rusty told Real News Right Now.
Located roughly fifteen miles west of Phoenix, Luke Air Force Base hosts a multinational pilot training center and is home to a number of aircraft including Lockheed Martin’s next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.