'Sorry, this is not a Chinese balloon'
China 'regrets' US air intrusion — insists balloon is a civilian airship

A popular website for tracking flights had to inform thousands of its users that an aircraft they were following wasn't the suspected Chinese spy balloon that's captivating Americans' attention, and instead was nothing more than “a standard high-altitude research tool from the United States,” Business Insider reported today.

It turns out that misplaced celebrity had been given at the flight-tracking site FlightRadar 24 to a standard research balloon belonging to Aerostar, an aeronautics company based in South Dakota, according to the report.

“On Saturday, FlightRadar24 updated the aircraft's label to clarify that it was a standard vessel under the control of the United States, writing: ‘Sorry, this is not a Chinese balloon.’”

FlightRadar24 reported that at least 4,000 users on its website were following every move of the balloon — listed as HBAL617 — making it the site’s most-tracked aircraft late Friday and early Saturday. And there was this from Business Insider:

“After some Twitter users asked whether FlightRadar24 would track the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon, the company said: ‘We are not expecting a spy balloon to reveal its location by transmitting ADS-B.’ Aircraft is to use ADS-B to broadcast their identification, position, altitude and velocity to other vessels.”

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The suspected Chinese spy balloon – distinct from the South Dakota aircraft mistaken for it and unrelated to the actual Chinese balloon traveling now over the United States – has nevertheless caused a new strain in U.S.-China relations, as reported today in the New York Times.

Clarification: This story has been updated to note the difference between the balloon erroneously suspected to be a Chinese spy balloon and an actual balloon from China traveling over the United States.