| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Dec 24 Santa Claus has made an on-time
departure from the North Pole, at least according to a U.S.
military command that has made it a tradition to track the
progress of Santa's reindeer-guided sleigh for millions of
Santa was "sticking to the same flight plan as he provided
us," Lieutenant Commander Bill Lewis, stationed at the North
American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs,
Colorado, said on Tuesday.
For nearly 60 years, NORAD has tracked Santa's flight path
in a popular Christmas tradition that last year drew 22.3
million visitors to its website www.noradsanta.org and generated
NORAD says it can keep up with Santa's swift pace by using
satellites and an "infrared sensor to detect heat signatures
from Rudolph's nose," as the lead reindeer helps pull Santa's
sleigh across the sky.
This year, NORAD said it was sending animated warplanes
alongside the sleigh, a move that drew criticism from some child
advocates who said children might worry if they believed Santa
was vulnerable to attack.
NORAD says it began depicting jets following the sleigh in
the 1960s and the planes would only be deployed to help Santa
enter North American airspace. He would then be "on his own to
do his work" Lewis said.
The Santa tracking tradition started in 1955, after Sears
Roebuck & Co ran a Christmas advertisement in a newspaper
accidentally misprinting Santa's North Pole phone number with
the contact number of a high-level office at NORAD.
Instead of disappointing the first child who called, Colonel
Harry Shoup said he was indeed Santa Claus and took a list of
Christmas gift requests from the young caller.
After hundreds more calls from children that day, NORAD's
Santa tracking mission was born.
"I think it's just marvelous," said Terri Van Keuren,
Colonel Shoup's daughter, of the yearly tradition that grew from
telephone calls and radio reports in the 1960s and 1970s into
website and video animation over the past decade.
Her father was "tickled pink he could see the results of it
before he died," she said. "He became known in the military as
the Santa colonel," she said.
(Reporting By Victoria Cavaliere; editing by Gunna Dickson)