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What we know about the search for two flying objects shot down over Yukon and near Ontario

By Daniel Otis, writer

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — Recovery efforts are currently underway in the Yukon and Ontario for debris from a pair of unidentified objects that were shot down by U.S. fighter jets on Saturday and Sunday.

Described as “cylindrical,” the first object was shot down over central Yukon on Feb. 11. Reportedly “octagonal,” the second was brought down on Feb. 12 over Lake Huron, which sits between Michigan and Ontario. They join another mysterious object as well as a much larger suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that were shot down over the U.S. on Feb. 10 and Feb. 4, respectively. Few details have emerged about the three smaller objects.

“They can’t definitively say whether they are Chinese, we don’t know for certain whether they’re balloons or another type of object, so there’s just a great deal of mystery surrounding this right now,” Vincent Rigby, former national security and intelligence adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, told CTV’s Power Play with Vassy Kapelos on Monday. “Until they get this information and they see the wreckage, it’s going to be very, very difficult to pull the pieces together.”

In Canada, the recovery efforts are being co-ordinated by Public Safety Canada and led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces in the Yukon and the Canadian Coast Guard in Ontario. Norad, the U.S. Coast Guard, the FBI, the U.S military and others are also participating in the effort.

“We’ve deployed significant resources here to be able to recover the object, as well as diplomatic and international engagements going on to find more information and get solutions on this,” Trudeau said from the Yukon on Monday.

Several Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft are involved in the Yukon operation, including a large CC-130H Hercules search and rescue plane, two smaller CC-138 Twin Otter planes, and CH-148 Cyclone and CH-149 Cormorant helicopters. Additional support is being provided by Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed in Whitehorse and Dawson City under the leadership of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.

“The debris is located in a remote location northeast of Dawson City, in complex alpine terrain that is prone to challenging northern weather conditions,” Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand said in a tweet.

Additional details on the searches were provided during a technical briefing on Monday.

Sean McGillis, the acting deputy commissioner of the RCMP’s federal policing program, described the challenges facing officers and military personnel in northwestern Canada, and admitted the possibility of finding nothing in the Yukon.

“We are exploring a very large area,” McGillis told reporters Monday afternoon. “It is unfortunately very rugged and mountainous terrain. The weather conditions are not great. There’s a very high level of snowpack in the region. So, our efforts are going to be difficult. It will be challenging. It will take us some time.”

Maj.-Gen. Paul Prevost, director of staff for the Canadian military’s Strategic Joint Staff, said they are using wind models to narrow down the search.

“Right now, what I’ve covered is our initial assessment is it’s in a 3,000-square-kilometre area,” he explained during the technical briefing. “So our experts are trying to narrow down this scope.”

Experts in hazardous materials have also been deployed.

“We are sending out folks with explosives capability, we’re sending out folks with that chemical, biological, radiological background, only because we don’t know what we’re dealing with,” McGillis said. “In any situation like this where we’re not sure what we’re dealing with, you always err on the side of being overly cautious and that’s why we’re deploying the specialized expertise that we are.”

On Lake Huron, the Canadian Coast Guard’s CCGS Griffon arrived at the scene Monday with members of the RCMP onboard. The 71-metre ship also carries a drone and will be assisted by a pair of coast guard helicopters stationed in Parry Sound, Ont., which is on the lake.

While the reportedly octagonal object was shot down in U.S. airspace, the current search area on Lake Huron straddles both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

“We’re starting on the southern part,” Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Joyce Murray told reporters on Monday. “And then we’ll be moving north from there. And we will do our very best to secure this material so that we can understand better what the purpose and the operations are about.”

Officials at the technical briefing could not confirm reports that the object had fallen into Canadian waters. The U.S. Coast Guard is also participating, and at one point on Monday, one of their search planes was the most followed flight on website Flightradar24.

Canada’s search efforts are being co-ordinated by the Government Operations Centre, which falls under the umbrella of Public Safety Canada.

“My organization provides for integrated federal response co-ordination and information sharing for the federal government for all types of emergencies as needed,” Government Operations Centre director Deryck Trehearne said at the technical briefing. “We’re in a search and recovery modality here.”

Speaking to CNN Monday morning, Anand declined to provide details about the downed objects or their origins.

“At this point, we are not able to speculate on the precise parameters of the object from the visual that we received,” Anand said. “It would be imprudent for me to speculate further at this time until we gathered the debris and until we do the analysis. The FBI is involved in that analysis, as is the RCMP here in Canada.”

CTV military analyst and retired Canadian Maj.-Gen. David Fraser believes its essential that Canada and the U.S. find debris.

“For the last three days, they’ve been identified as objects, not even balloons, and so we really do need to recover whatever is on the ground now from these three incidents to figure out what actually happened and actually now to explain it to the citizens of what’s going on,” Fraser told CTV News Channel on Monday. “Once they get them, they will be able to determine fairly quickly what was on these objects, were they a threat, and most importantly is who sent them, and then start to determine out the intent behind these. But first of all we’ve got to find them.”

With files from Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello and Writer Michael Lee.

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