- The US has taken down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic.
- The balloon earlier on Saturday had been detected over South Carolina near the Atlantic Ocean.
- An operation is currently underway to recover fragments of the balloon.
The US on Saturday took down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean, where fragments of the object could possibly be taken in by the government, US officials said.
The balloon, which had spent five days traversing the country at roughly 60,000 feet in the air, was detected over South Carolina as it moved toward the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday.
The balloon was taken down by a single air-to-air missile fired by an F22 jet flying at 58,000 feet, Fox News reported. President Joe Biden on Saturday afternoon thanked US aviators for their work in taking down the balloon.
“I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible … they decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water within a 12-mile limit,” the president said. “They successfully took it down and I want to compliment our aviators who did it.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Saturday the balloon was being used by China “in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States.”
Videos quickly surfaced online Saturday afternoon, showing the balloon disintegrating in the air.
—Philip Melanchthon Wegmann (@PhilipWegmann) February 4, 2023
To prepare for its efforts to take down the balloon, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily closed airspace off in the Carolinas, which included airports in Charleston, South Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina, until roughly 2:45 p.m. local time on Saturday. The agency had also diverted air traffic away from the region and notified travelers of delays due to the restrictions.
The Coast Guard had also asked mariners to steer clear of the area due to US military actions “that present a significant hazard.”
US officials were seeking to obtain as many parts of the balloon as they could before some pieces eventually sink into the Atlantic, per the AP’s report. A US official said that the part under the balloon is roughly the size of two to three school buses, while the actual balloon was larger — which has the potential to produce a considerable debris field.
Biden had leaned toward taking down the balloon when he was briefed on the matter on Tuesday, per the report, but Pentagon officials cautioned him against such a move, citing the risk to individuals on the ground.
US military commanders had previously determined that downing the balloon over land “posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload,” Austin said in his statement.
Austin also called China’s use of the balloon an “unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.
He added that the downing of the balloon, which also flew over Canadian airspace in recent days, was “taken in coordination, and with the full support, of the Canadian government.”
China’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday called the US downing of the balloon “clearly an excessive reaction that seriously violates international convention,” according to The New York Times.
The ministry insisted that the balloon was a civilian aircraft that had been flown over the US in a “totally accidental” incident.
“China will resolutely defend the legitimate rights and interests of the enterprise involved, and retains the right to respond further,” the statement said.
This story has been updated.