Spy balloon saga just hot air

I can remember, as a child in the aftermath of the Second World War, the big event twice a day was watching a weather balloon launched from the U.K. government’s Meteorological Office near my home in Camborne, Cornwall.

I recently learned more than 900 weather offices around the world still launch similar balloons twice a day.

I can also remember the saga of “Balloon Boy” in 2009, when a Colorado couple alerted authorities their six-year old son had somehow gotten into a home-made helium balloon they had just launched. It drew huge media attention floating around for a day or so before landing. But the world’s media was taken for a ride in the hot air that filled that magic balloon, as the boy was kept hidden at home the entire time, in what was an elaborate hoax and publicity stunt.

There was a similar outcry in 1938, when Orson Welles converted H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds into a fake news radio broadcast (drama), which was so realistic many listeners were convinced Martians had landed in New Jersey.

Those incidents flashed though my brain while watching BBC World News Feb. 4. The Chinese balloon, which captured the world media’s attention for a few days, had just met its demise when (shot down) by a missile fired by a U.S. fighter jet off the coast of South Carolina.

A couple of eye-winesses from nearby Myrtle Beach filmed the proceedings on their cell-phones and were explaining what they saw to a very excited BBC news anchor. He kept repeating himself for a entire hour, looking, at times, as if he may be experiencing some kind of medical emergency, or at least an orgasm.

Apparently, the balloon from China was the size of three school buses and is now scattered in a debris field somewhere in the deep Atlantic Ocean, after plummeting from more than 60,000 feet.

It is presently unknown how much will be retrieved and what information will be believable, if it is even shared.

Nothing about this balloon is quite as tangible as the American U-2 spy plane that was shot down over Russia in 1960. Lest we forget, CIA pilot Gary Powers was a real spy in the sky.

Bernie Smith, Parksville

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