GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - An unidentified flying object parachuted into dense Congo jungle to the confusion of local authorities, who detained two people for questioning until a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet confirmed the device was an internet balloon.
Images shared on social media showed people inspecting a large silver-coloured contraption fitted with solar panels and wires, which had landed in the tropical forest of Bas-Uele province in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo, trailing a large deflated balloon.
Locals alerted the security services after the object fell to earth around 1 p.m. local time on Monday, Bas-Uele Governor Valentin Senga told Reuters after visiting the site around 10 km (6 miles) south of the provincial capital Buta.
“I’m not able to say exactly what kind of device I observed,” he said by phone on Tuesday. “What intrigues us is that neither the intelligence services nor the local aviation authorities claim to have any information on the overflight of Congolese air space by this aircraft.”
He said police had detained two people, a Congolese and a Pakistani national, who had arrived in Buta with the purpose of searching for the device.
The mystery was solved on Tuesday afternoon when Loon, a subsidiary of Alphabet, claimed the object. “I can confirm that Loon executed a controlled landing of one of our stratospheric balloons in this region,” a Loon spokesman said in a statement.
Loon’s balloons travel 20 km (12 miles) above the earth’s surface on the edge of space, acting as floating cell towers, to deliver internet services to people in remote areas around the world.
Loon said the landing was coordinated with local air traffic control officials and approved by the civil aviation authority.
In July, Kenya’s Telkom launched mobile internet services via Loon technology. Flight-tracking software showed the HBAL166 balloon circling central Africa in recent months, with its last known location in northern Congo.
Reporting by Fiston Mahamba with additional reporting and writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Mark Heinrich
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