News

Mystery in sky solved: Google balloons soar over C.O.

One apparently stopped firefighting helicopter

Balloon mystery appears solved

BEND, Ore. - (Update: DCSO confirms flight-tracking app ID'd 2 Google balloons in fire area)

Online search giant Google on Monday claimed ownership of at least one of the two mysterious balloons that have been spotted soaring or stationary in the skies over Central Oregon recently.

The balloons are part of Google's Project Loon, which uses large balloons to bring internet to rural areas.

Initially when asked, a Google representative said the balloons did not belong to them. But Monday evening, the spokesman apologized and told NewsChannel 21 they did have "a balloon" in Central Oregon last Friday.

This could put many Central Oregonians who've been spotting the balloons at ease. Since mid-July, NewsChannel 21 has been hearing from viewers about strange white of transparent objects in the sky.

The apparent balloons were spotted south of Bend, close to La Pine.

On Friday afternoon, the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office tweeted that a drone had halted helicopter operations over a small wildfire near Lava Butte, but then sent another moments later saying it had been identified instead as a balloon belonging to the Google project.

Flight-tracking apps such as FlightRadar24 not only track planes, but Google's balloons. Sgt. Nathan Garibay said the agency was able in that way to confirm the two balloons seen in the area of the 4-acre fire were from Project Loon.

Ryan Franklin was near Bessie Butte when he spotted the two objects in the sky. 

"Actually, I saw one at first. It was this white light in the sky -- and then seconds later I noticed another one. And I was like, 'What are they?' I quickly noticed they aren't moving, and I thought, 'Maybe they're drones,'" Franklin said Monday. 

Franklin put his telephoto lens on his camera, zoomed in and saw that the objects were actually balloons of some sort.

Officials at the National Weather Service said the balloons don't belong to them. And the Bend Airport didn't know anything about the balloons.

Franklin said it's not too concerning, but it does leave lots of unanswered questions.

"I suppose if for some crazy reason we found out we were being spied on by another country, that would make me nervous. But until then, no, not terribly nervous," he said.

And Central Oregon's not the only place that's seen strange objects in the sky. About two weeks ago, similar white balloon-like objects were spotted in Pendleton, but were never identified. 

NewsChannel 21 also reached out to the Federal Aviation Administration. FAA officials hadn't heard anything about balloons in Central Oregon, but they had put an inspector on the case and were looking into where the balloons were from.  


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