The United States shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of Carolina after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America and became the latest flashpoint of tensions between Washington and Beijing.
An operation was underway in US territorial waters in the Atlantic to recover debris from the balloon, which was flying at about 60,000 feet on Saturday and was estimated to be about the size of three school buses.
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The balloon was shot down by Air Force fighter jets, according to two officials who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
President Joe Biden had told reporters earlier Saturday that “we’ll take care of it” when asked about the balloon.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Coast Guard worked to clean up the airspace and water beneath the balloon as it reached the ocean.
Television footage showed a small explosion followed by the balloon’s descent towards the water.
US military jets were spotted nearby, and ships were deployed in the water to conduct the salvage operation.
Officials wanted to time the operation so they could recover as much of the debris as possible before it sank into the ocean. The Pentagon previously estimated that any debris field would be significant.
The balloon was spotted over the Carolinas Saturday morning as it neared the coast.
In preparation for the operation, the FAA administration temporarily closed airspace over the Carolina coast, including airports in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina.
The FAA diverted air traffic out of the area and warned of delays due to flight restrictions.
The Coast Guard advised seafarers to leave the area immediately because of US military operations “which pose a significant threat.”
Biden had been inclined to dismantle the balloon overland when he was first briefed Tuesday, but Pentagon officials advised against it, warning that the potential risk to people on the ground outweighed any assessment of potential Chinese intelligence gains.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled his visit to Beijing scheduled for Sunday after the balloon’s public unveiling.
The talks were aimed at defusing tensions between the US and China, but the Chinese government tried to downplay the cancellation.
“In fact, the US and China have never announced a visit, the US’s announcement is their own business and we respect that,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday morning.
China continues to claim that the balloon was merely a weather research “airship” that went off course.
The Pentagon flatly denied that — as did China’s claim that it is not used for surveillance and has limited navigational capabilities.
Balloon sighted near military bases
The balloon was spotted over Montana, where one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields is located at Malmstrom Air Force Base
The Pentagon also confirmed reports of a second balloon flying over Latin America. “We now understand that this is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Brig. Gen. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a question about the second balloon.
Blinken, who was due to leave Washington for Beijing late Friday, said he told senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in a phone call that sending the balloon through the US was “an irresponsible act and[China’s]decision to allow that measure.” The eve of my visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to engage in.”
Uncensored reactions on the Chinese internet reflected the government’s official stance that the US was playing up the situation. X
Some used it as an opportunity to poke fun at US defenses, saying they couldn’t even defend against a balloon.
https://7news.com.au/news/world/us-shoots-down-spy-balloon-over-ocean-and-moves-to-recover-debris-c-9656043 The US shoots down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the ocean and tries to recover debris