Jaipur: The US-manufactured helium-filled balloon spotted over Rajasthan, which was shot down by a Sukhoi-30 aircraft on Tuesday, had come in from Pakistan, sources said.
The Defence Ministry, in writing, has informed the Ministry of External Affairs about the incident. Flying at a height of about 25,000 feet in Jaisalmer district, the balloon that had ‘Happy Birthday' written on it, was spotted by the air force radars which were on high alert citing Republic Day celebrations.
“Our radars picked up a shiny flying object entering our air space. A fighter jet was quickly scrambled which intercepted it and shot it down,” Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on the sidelines of an event here.
The Indian Air Force said in a statement, “Due to heightened security alert, the balloon was shot down as it would have been carrying unknown payload. However, on analysis of the debris it was established that there was no dangerous payload.”
Meanwhile, government sources said that the balloon, made by an American company, was flying at an altitude higher than that of a helicopter (18,000 feet) and hence leaving nothing to chance, it was shot down.
The wind speed was also high and so was the threat level. "Investigation is on but it could have been an attempt to check our response time,” they said, adding that IAF followed the protocol by scrambling the jet and shooting the object down.
“Imagine, if it was not just a commercial balloon,” the sources said, adding that 97 rounds were spent as the fighter plane sprayed bullets as per Standard Operating Procedure.
As per the Aircraft Act 1934, “aircraft” means any machine which can derive support in the atmosphere from reactions of the air, (other than reactions of the air against the Earth's surface) and includes balloons, whether fixed or free, airships, kites, gliders and flying machines. The balloon was manufactured by Illinois based firm CTI Industries.
(With PTI inputs)