UPDATED 2/25, 3:12 p.m. ET: The United States military has shot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon.
According to the Associated Press, the Biden administration reportedly OK’d the move Saturday morning, after the airship made its way to the Atlantic Ocean coast, just outside South Carolina. Shortly before the balloon came down, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for airports in Wilmington, North Carolina, as well as Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The FFA said the move was intended “to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort.”
A number of eyewitnesses captured the moment on video and shared the footage on social media.
“The balloon basically, like, popped, you know? Like you would see a normal balloon kind of pop,” Travis Huffstetler, a local photographer in Myrtle Beach, told CNN . “Now it’s still drifting and floating down as we speak. It was super visible here from the beach.”
When pressed about the balloon earlier on Saturday, President Joe Biden told reporters, “we’re going to take care of it.” Government officials had previously expressed concerns about shooting the airship down, saying the debris could potentially harm the public; however, officials later determined that the debris field wouldn’t be substantial if they timed the takedown just right. The U.S. has since deployed a team to recover as much of the debris floating in U.S. territorial waters.
The balloon is reportedly the size of two to three buses and was floating approximately 60,000 feet above the U.S.
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A Chinese aircraft spotted in Montana has sparked national security concerns.
CNN reports a high-altitude surveillance balloon was spotted this week hovering over Billings, Montana. U.S. officials say the balloon was launched from mainland China, and made its way over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and through Canada before entering the continental U.S.
The Pentagon confirmed it has spent the last couple of days tracking the aircraft, which some have described as a sophisticated espionage tool. Officials claim the balloon is still in the country, but declined to say where it was located.
“Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information,” Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has since confirmed that the ballon is Chinese; however, they insist it’s a civilian airship used primarily for meteorological research purposes and that it was simply blown off course by strong winds.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” a CFM spokesperson said in a statement, adding the country would continue communicating with the U.S. to “properly handle this unexpected situation.”
The Biden administration has reportedly explored military options, as a number of lawmakers have urged the president to shoot the airship down. Officials point out that the balloon has flown over a “number of sensitive sites,” and was possibly being used for intelligence collection.
Biden was reportedly advised not to shoot the airship down, after experts conducted a cost-and-benefit analysis.
“Why not shoot it down? We have to do the risk-reward here,” a senior defense official told CNN. “So the first question is, does it pose a threat, a physical kinetic threat, to individuals in the United States in the US homeland? Our assessment is it does not. Does it pose a threat to civilian aviation? Our assessment is it does not. Does it pose a significantly enhanced threat on the intelligence side? Our best assessment right now is that it does not. So given that profile, we assess the risk of downing it, even if the probability is low in a sparsely populated area of the debris falling and hurting someone or damaging property, that it wasn’t worth it.”