Did an Air Canada flight spot the Chinese spy balloon over B.C. on Jan. 31?

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Did an Air Canada flight spot the suspected Chinese spy balloon over British Columbia?

According to a government aviation incident report, an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Winnipeg “reported a large balloon about 4,000 feet above them with something hanging from it” on the afternoon of Jan. 31. The plane was approximately 120 kilometres from Cranbrook, in southeastern B.C., at the time. Available online, the report also states that Norad was advised.

Short for North American Aerospace Defence Command, Norad is a joint Canada-U.S. defence group tasked with protecting the continent from incoming threats. A Norad spokesperson could not provide additional details.

The aviation incident report was published Monday by Transport Canada, the federal transportation department. The report itself would have been made to air traffic controllers with Nav Canada, a private company. A Nav Canada spokesperson referred questions to Transport Canada, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an email, an Air Canada spokesperson said they have no information to add. Transport Canada routinely cautions that reports in its online aviation incident database “contain preliminary, unconfirmed data which can be subject to change.”

The exact route of the balloon over Canada has not been disclosed. First detected near Alaska on Jan. 28, officials say it crossed into Canadian airspace in the Northwest Territories on Jan. 30 and travelled south, before re-entering the U.S. in Idaho on Jan. 31, which is not far from Cranbrook. On Friday, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand said authorities are still trying to determine if it collected intelligence over Canada.

Two hundred feet tall, manoeuvrable and with a payload of sensors the size of a jet airliner, the alleged surveillance balloon became public news on Feb. 1 as it flew above Montana, home to one of three U.S. nuclear missile silo sites. After it traversed the U.S., an American F-22 fighter jet finally brought it down with an air-to-air missile over the Atlantic Ocean near South Carolina on the afternoon of Feb. 4. China has denied that the balloon was collecting intelligence.

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