The United States shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean Saturday at approximately 2:40 p.m. ET on Saturday, Feb. 4.
The balloon was taken down as it floated over the Atlantic Ocean east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
An operation is now underway to recover debris from the balloon, which had been flying at about 60,000 feet.
Less than an hour earlier, two anonymous U.S. officials told the Associated Press that U.S. President Joe Biden had made the call to shoot down the balloon.
Speaking to reporters shortly after the balloon was shot down, the president said that he had actually given the order to shoot the surveillance craft days ago.
“I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday, as soon as possible,” Biden said. “They decided, without doing damage to anyone on the ground, they decided that the best time to do that was as it got over water within a 12-mile limit.”
He would reiterate that he had given the orders earlier in the week but that it was the military that recommended waiting until the balloon was over the Atlantic Ocean, as that was the “safest place to do it.”
Fox News, which had been continuously airing a video feed of the balloon floating over South Carolina on Saturday, captured the moment live on-air when fighter jets struck the surveillance craft.
“First of all, well done!” Fox News analyst Gen. Jack Keane (Ret.) declared seconds after the balloon was shot.
Other local media outlets and observers in South Carolina also filmed the military takedown of the balloon that had captured global attention.
Myrtle Beach news station WPDE, for instance, not only got video of the craft coming down but also picked up the enormous booming sound of the impact of the jet’s missile slamming into the airship.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed that “U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully brought down the high altitude surveillance balloon,” adding that the balloon was an attempt by the Chinese government to “surveil strategic sites in the continental United States.”
Austin also noted that after Biden authorized the military on Wednesday to “take down the surveillance balloon as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives,” the Pentagon determined that shooting it down over land “posed an undue risk to people.”
Austin concluded: “Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety and security of the American people first while responding effectively to the PRC’s unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”
Mocking the days of over-the-top outrage from his Republican colleagues over Biden’s supposed “feckless” response to the surveillance craft drifting across American airspace, Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) shared a clip of Biden’s remarks to reporters.
“Great news for my Republican colleagues, they can stop panicking about a balloon now,” Beyer tweeted on Saturday afternoon.
Senior defense officials have also told multiple press outlets the U.S. was able to gain “more insight into China’s intelligence gathering capability” due to tracking the balloon over the past week. While they’ll be able to gather more information after recovering the debris, the Pentagon feels it was able to block the spy balloon from collecting usable intelligence during its flyover.
This, of course, comes amid GOP criticism that the president should have shot the aircraft down much earlier.
U.S. fighter jets were spotted in the area leading up to the shot. Meanwhile, the FAA paused all air traffic in and out of three airports in North and South Carolina until at least 3:30 p.m. ET, citing the reason as “national security initiatives.”
Just hours earlier Biden said, “We’re going to take care of it,” when asked on Saturday morning if the U.S. planned to shoot it out of the sky.
The tough-talking came after Chinese foreign affairs officials said they never formally announced Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Sunday visit to Beijing, which has now been canceled in the wake of the surveillance balloon.
“In actuality, the U.S. and China have never announced any visit, the U.S. making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that,” officials said in a statement Saturday.
Meanwhile, after canceling the trip, Blinken said he told a senior Chinese diplomat that the balloon was an “irresponsible act,” according to the Associated Press.
On Friday night, CNN reported that U.S. military officials were in talks with NASA to determine the potential debris field if the balloon were to be shot down. This news comes a day after the Pentagon also spotted a second Chinese surveillance balloon flying over Latin America.
The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported on Saturday that U.S. officials are now saying there is a third Chinese balloon in another part of the world conducting surveillance.