Santa is cleared for take-off

Santa Claus is coming to town ... and in these uncertain times, he’s being offered a jet-fighter escort.

Canadian pilots seconded to the North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad), who normally spend their nights scouring the skies for intruders, will scramble on Christmas Eve for a special mission.

“Santa has communicated to Norad that he intends to begin his journey at 3am EST, December 24,” the Canadian armed forces said in a tongue-in-cheek statement.

Two CF-18 Hornet interceptor fighters based in Quebec are on standby to meet the festive visitor when he crosses into Canadian airspace over eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, the statement said.

Another pair of warplanes based in Alberta will see Santa off as he crosses Canada’s west coast, presumably en route to Asia, the statement said.

Norad plans to use special “SantaCams” to track the gift-laden sleigh pulled by Rudolf and his reindeer cronies across the night sky.

“At Santa’s request, millions of curious children will be able to closely follow his progress and view near-real-time updates through special digital photographs and technical information compiled by Norad,” the release said.

Pictures and Santa’s progress will be posted on a radar map on a website available in French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese and English.

Norad, jointly operated by the United States and Canada, has been tracking Santa for 50 years, ever since a newspaper in Colorado mistakenly printed a number for a “Santa hotline”.

The number turned out to be the operations hotline for Norad headquarters in the state where tense radar operators were hunched over their radar screens on a cold night at the beginning of the Cold War.

“Needless to say, the military personnel on duty were very surprised to hear small children’s voices on the operations hotline asking to speak to Santa,” the release said.

The senior officer told kids he could see Santa heading south from the North Pole, starting a tradition that has now endured for half a century.—Sapa-AFP

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