Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP
- The US has taken down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic, according to The AP.
- The balloon earlier on Saturday had been detected over South Carolina near the Atlantic Ocean.
- An operation is currently underway to recover fragments of the balloon.
The US on Saturday took down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean, where fragments of the object could possibly be taken in by the government, US officials said.
The balloon, which had spent five days traversing the country at roughly 60,000 feet in the air, was detected over South Carolina as it moved toward the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday.
President Joe Biden earlier on Saturday addressed a reporter’s question about the balloon when it was still in the air and said: “We’re going to take care of it.”
Biden on Saturday afternoon thanked US aviators for their work in taking down the balloon.
“I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible … they decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water within a 12-mile limit,” the president said. “They successfully took it down and I want to compliment our aviators who did it.”
—Philip Melanchthon Wegmann (@PhilipWegmann) February 4, 2023
To prepare for its efforts to take down the balloon, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily closed airspace off in the Carolinas, which included airports in Charleston, South Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina, until roughly 2:45 p.m. local time on Saturday. The agency had also diverted air traffic away from the region and notified travelers of delays due to the restrictions.
The Coast Guard had also asked mariners to steer clear of the area due to US military actions “that present a significant hazard.”
US officials were seeking to obtain as many parts of the balloon as they could before some pieces eventually sink into the Atlantic, per the AP’s report. A US official said that the part under the balloon is roughly the size of two to three school buses, while the actual balloon was larger — which has the potential to produce a considerable debris field.
Biden had leaned toward taking down the balloon when he was briefed on the matter on Tuesday, per the report, but Pentagon officials cautioned him against such a move, citing the risk to individuals on the ground.
China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday stated that the aircraft “strayed into the United States due to force majeure.”
“Affected by the westerly wind and with limited self-control ability, the airship seriously deviated from the scheduled route,” the ministry said.
“China regrets that the airship strayed into the United States due to force majeure. China will continue to maintain communication with the US to properly handle the unexpected situation,” it added.
This story has been updated.