Pentagon shot down Chinese spy balloon over South Carolina

US Air Force (USAF) F/A-22 Raptor Image: U.S. National Archives

A Chinese high-altitude spy balloon was successfully shot down by an American fighter on Saturday, according to a written statement from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.

“The balloon, which was being used by the PRC in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States, was brought down above U.S. territorial waters,” Austin said.

According to Reuters, the Pentagon advised taking down the balloon over open sea to protect civilians from debris that could have crashed to Earth from thousands of feet above commercial aviation traffic, according to President Joe Biden, who claimed to have given the order on Wednesday.

“I told them to shoot it down,” President Biden told reporters in Hagerstown, Md., as cited by The New York Times. “They said to me, let’s wait until the safest place to do it.”

The balloon was destroyed at 2:39 p.m. by a single missile launched from an F-22 Raptor, not long after the Federal Aviation Administration ordered a ground halt for all flights into and out of Wilmington, North Carolina; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Charleston, South Carolina. Less than an hour later, the government lifted the restriction, The Washington Post reports.

Videos captured by bystanders showed the balloon’s torn remains plummeting and creating a white cloud in its trail. One witness claimed to have heard a “boom.”

According to Pentagon officials, the spy balloon started its controlled drift into American territory on January 28 when it entered Alaskan airspace near the Aleutian Islands, NYT reports. The spy balloon, which the Chinese were able to remotely maneuver to some extent, was still reliant on the jet stream for travel. The United States Northern Command’s trackers initially thought it was simply another one of China’s scouting missions near the defensive frontiers of the United States.

According to a senior government source, China has created a fleet of balloons for surveillance operations that have been seen flying above nations on all five continents. They occasionally trespass into American land and normally orbit at a height of roughly 60,000 feet. That had previously occurred once during the Biden administration and three times during the Trump administration, according to a senior defense official.

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