Video: Thousands mistake US research aircraft, viral explosion for China spy balloon

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A high-altitude research balloon from the US is now among the world’s most-tracked aircraft, after thousands of internet users mistook it for the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon floating over the western state of Montana.

More than 4,000 users were following every move of “N257TH,” a standard high-altitude research balloon often released over the US, according to FlightRadar24. In response, the popular aircraft-tracking website said in a tweet on Saturday that it updated its label for the US balloon, adding that the object was “not a Chinese balloon.”

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The high-altitude Chinese balloon floating over the continental US has gripped the world’s attention and forced Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel his trip to Beijing.

The balloon is part of a broader Chinese spying program that’s seen many such devices sent over the US, including some during the Trump administration, according to officials in Washington.

The fate of the balloon, as it wafts 10 miles above ground, remains uncertain — as do the delicate relations between two superpowers grasping for ways to deescalate tensions and get talks back on track.

Authorities in the city of Billings in southern Montana issued a statement refuting the veracity of a video purporting to show an explosion and the balloon crashing to the ground, after it went viral on Twitter and was shared by cable news networks.

Read more:

US politicians, media used balloon incident as ‘pretext to smear China’: Beijing

Blinken scraps China trip, US says spy balloon ‘unacceptable’

China: Balloon in US airspace for research, expresses regret for straying into US

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