After tracking China’s suspected “spy balloon” for several days, while restraining from shooting it down for safety reasons, the United States finally downed the white balloon off the Carolina coast Saturday.
The balloon had spent several days travelling in a diagonal southeast route from Idaho to the Carolinas while traversing sensitive military sites and had become the latest flashpoint in tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Videos showing the Chinese surveillance balloon being shot down by US fighter jets have since gone viral on social media. The visuals show a small burst of smoke followed by the balloon descending toward the water.
🚨#BREAKING: Incredible HD footage of the Chinese surveillance balloon being shot down
🚨#MyrtleBeach l #SC
Watch incredible HD video of the moment when the Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down by a single missile from an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base pic.twitter.com/KjwTrgcvcb
— R A W S A L E R T S (@rawsalerts) February 4, 2023
Ahead of mission, Federal Aviation Administration pauses departures, arrivals at Wilmington airports
According to The New York Times, Pentagon officials stated that they carried out the mission at 2:39 pm Saturday, about six miles off the coast of South Carolina.
The Federal Aviation Administration had paused departures and arrivals at airports in Wilmington, North Carolina, and in Myrtle Beach and Charleston in South Carolina. One of two F-22 fighter jets from Langley Air Force Base fired a Sidewinder air-to-air missile, downing the balloon, which was flying at an altitude of 60,000 to 65,000 feet. The F-22s were at 58,000 feet, with other American fighters in support, NYT reported.
Navy, Coast Guard to conduct recovery effort to retrieve debris of balloon
The Navy and Coast Guard personnel would conduct a recovery effort to retrieve the debris of the balloon, which landed in relatively shallow water, NYT quoted the Pentagon officials as saying, adding that the US national security agencies hope the material they collect will add value to their database of Chinese intelligence gathering.
“This afternoon, at the direction of President Biden, US fighter aircraft assigned to US Northern Command successfully brought down the high altitude surveillance balloon launched by and belonging to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the water off the coast of South Carolina in US airspace. 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 US territorial waters,” United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin III said in a statement issued to the media.
What did US President Joe Biden say?
Earlier in the day, US President Joe Biden said that though he ordered that the balloon be shot down as soon as possible, Pentagon officials advised against this because of the possibility of harm to civilians and infrastructure while it was over land. They requested him to “wait until the safest place to do it.”
“They decided — without doing damage to anyone on the ground — the best time to do that was as it got over water, outside within the 12-mile limit,” Biden said.
China expresses strong dissatisfaction
Meanwhile, Beijing reacting to the downing of the balloon expressed strong dissatisfaction and opposition towards the US use of force to attack China’s civilian unmanned airship, state-run Xinhua news agency cited a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry as saying on Sunday, news agency PTI reported.
“The US insisting on the use of force is an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice. China will resolutely uphold the relevant company’s legitimate rights and interests, at the same time, reserving the right to take further actions in response,” said the Foreign Ministry statement.
(With inputs from The New York Times, PTI)