The giant white, aerial blob that US officials described as a Chinese spy balloon was seen plummeting towards the Atlantic Ocean near Surfside Beach, South Carolina, on Saturday afternoon, having been shot down by a US military fighter jet.
“I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday, as soon as possible,” President Biden told reporters in Hagerstown, Maryland, en route to Camp David. Military officials advised that the best time to do so was when the device was safely flying over water off the East Coast, he said.
Biden: "On the balloon, I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible [for safety] … they successfully took it down." pic.twitter.com/2GbSzejnZI
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 4, 2023
Live television images showed the balloon suddenly losing shape amid a plume of smoke and falling towards the ocean over several minutes. The dramatic turn of events came after the Federal Aviation Administration closed airspace and halted departures of planes to three Atlantic coast airports due to “national security initiatives.” Contrails from fighter jets were seen streaming across bright blue skies near the balloon.
The agency has also closed airspace.
— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) February 4, 2023
The military intervention was the latest twist in a controversy that sparked a diplomatic crisis between two superpowers. Earlier this week, American defense officials reported a strange aerial sighting: a giant balloon the size of three buses was sailing at 60,000 feet across Montana. President Joe Biden requested military options, but it was believed that shooting the balloon down would pose too many risks to human life on the ground.
China, for its part, confirmed the machine was theirs but said it was a weather monitoring aircraft that had gone off course. The Biden administration expressed their displeasure by postponing Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing less than a day before he was supposed to leave.
“I made clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law,” Blinken told reporters earlier this week.
Shortly after the balloon burst, the Associated Press reported an “operation was underway in U.S. territorial waters to recover [its] debris.”
The Pentagon reported on Friday that a second Chinese spy balloon was spotted over Latin America.
This is a breaking news post and will be updated.