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‘Derelict balloon’: Air traffic control recordings capture pilots spotting Chinese spy balloon

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Posted at 4:42 PM, Feb 03, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Pilots from several commercial airliners reported seeing a Chinese spy balloon while crossing through airspace roughly 50 miles northeast of Kansas City, Missouri.

KSHB 41 News analyzed about an hour of air traffic radio communication between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. central time with pilots and Air Traffic Controllers based in Olathe, Kansas, in charge of a large swath of airspace around the Kansas City area.

RELATED | Pentagon says balloon poses no threat

“We’ve got the balloon in sight,” pilots on board United Airlines Flight 739 from Chicago to Albuquerque, New Mexico, reported back to air traffic controllers.

A review of flight paths identified several commercial and cargo aircraft in the airspace during the time when the balloon was in the area.

One exchange involved a Fed Ex flight that was bound for Memphis, Tennessee from Anchorage, Alaska. Pilots from an Air Canada flight between Toronto and Phoenix also reported spotting the balloon while over northwest Missouri.

As pilots continued to confirm the location of the balloon, traffic turned to the source of what was described by controllers as the “derelict balloon.”

“Is that that Chinese spy balloon?” one pilot asked. The air traffic controller replied, “No comment.”

The pilots onboard American Airlines Flight 392 between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Phoenix were also among those who asked controllers about the balloon.

“We were just wondering if you have any idea where this derelict balloon came from?” the pilots asked.

The air traffic controller once again replied with a “no comment.”

Later in the sequence, another pilot radioed that it was the Chinese spy balloon.

“That’s what we figured. We gave them the appropriate salute,” pilots from an unknown flight reported.

The balloon's flight drew the ire of local, state and federal political leaders, who took to social media Friday to show their displeasure.