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Read 'secret' Canadian air force documents on Chinese balloon

A large balloon drifts above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet below it, on Feb. 4, 2023. (Chad Fish via AP, File) A large balloon drifts above the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina, with a fighter jet below it, on Feb. 4, 2023. (Chad Fish via AP, File)
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Recently declassified documents from the Royal Canadian Air Force show how two Air Canada flights spotted a suspected Chinese spy balloon days before it became headline news.

Once classified secret, the heavily redacted "vital intelligence sighting" report and air force "daily log" file from Jan. 31, 2023, offer a glimpse into how authorities initially responded to the high-altitude balloon, which was shot down days later.

The documents first refer to the balloon as a "track of interest" and then "Object Charlie." Air Canada flights from both Vancouver to Montreal and Vancouver to Winnipeg radioed in their sightings about a half-hour apart while flying over southeastern British Columbia.

"[Redacted] reported object hanging off bottom of object, looks as briefed," a line in the air force log explains. "[Redacted] reports 4-6 dishes on the structure."

Air force technicians searched for other unknown radar tracks, but only found the balloon. After the second Air Canada flight saw it, a "vital intelligence" report was distributed.

"Pilot reported a balloon with a structure beneath it 4,000 [feet] above its altitude," the report states. "This [pilot report] correlated to the Balloon [track of interest] being tracked by [redacted]… No intercept or ID actions taken."

The "vital intelligence" report and log file come from the Canadian Air Defence Sector at the 22 Wing air force base in North Bay, Ont., which is responsible for monitoring radar feeds and identifying all air traffic approaching the country as part of Norad, the joint Canada-U.S. defence group.

The documents were provided to CTVNews.ca by private investigator Ryan Stacey, who obtained them through an access to information request. CTVNews.ca attempted to confirm their authenticity with Canada's Department of National Defence, but did not receive a response in time for publication. The "vital intelligence" report and log files are similar to those uncovered in previous CTVNews.ca investigations. CTVNews.ca also reported on one of the Air Canada sightings in a Feb. 10, 2023, article.

The eight-page information release package additionally contained two reports from early 2023 of unidentified lights seen by a flight approaching Yellowknife and an air traffic controller in Ottawa.

The suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was first detected near Alaska on Jan. 28, 2023. Officials say it crossed into Canadian airspace on Jan. 30 and travelled south before re-entering the U.S. in Idaho on Jan. 31. It made international headlines on Feb. 2 as it flew over Montana, home to one of three U.S. nuclear missile silo sites.

After traversing the U.S., the massive balloon was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean near South Carolina by an American fighter jet on Feb. 4, 2023. Although significant debris was recovered, China has denied that it was collecting intelligence.

Shortly after, three other objects were tracked and shot down over Alaska, Yukon and Lake Huron between Feb. 10 and 12, 2023. While possibly smaller balloons of different origins, no debris was located and all three officially remain unidentified.

"I can confirm that Norad or [U.S. Northern Command] have not downed any airborne objects since February 2023," a Norad spokesperson recently told CTVNews.ca.

Investigations into the Alaska and Lake Huron objects are currently being led by the FBI, which declined to comment. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has taken the lead regarding the Yukon object.

"The investigation will remain open until such time as the purpose of the object has been assessed," an RCMP spokesperson told CTVNew.ca. "As the operation is ongoing, we will not comment further."

Do you have an interesting document or observation to share? Email CTVNews.ca Writer Daniel Otis at daniel.otis@bellmedia.ca.

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