A suspected high-altitude surveillance balloon hovering over the United States was identified as a "civilian airship" intended for weather research that accidentally blew off course, according to Chinese officials.
"The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes," Beijing's foreign ministry said in a statement shared on its website Friday (February 3).
"The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure," the agency added, noting that it planned to continue communication with the U.S. to "properly handle this unexpected situation."
The statement comes after Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder announced that government officials been tracking the balloon for several days as it made its way over the northern U.S., specifying that the mysterious object was "traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground,” via CNN on Thursday (February 2).
“We are confident that this high-altitude surveillance balloon belongs to the [People’s Republic of China],” Ryder said prior to confirmation from Beijing's foreign ministry. “Instances of this activity have been observed over the past several years, including prior to this administration.”
The balloon was initially spotted in Montana on Thursday and believed to be on a flight path that could have taken it over a "number of sites," which led to officials taking steps in order to "protect against foreign intelligence collection."
The Canadian Department of National Defence also acknowledged that the high-altitude surveillance ballon was detected and being "actively tracked" by the North American Aerospace Defense Command in a statement shared late Thursday, however, provided no additional details or confirmation that it was the same balloon spotted in the U.S.