The Chinese balloon that has flown over the United States the past two days was shot down by a U.S. missile Saturday off the coast of South Carolina.
The balloon that the Pentagon says it knows was a spy balloon, but that the Chinese government said was only a weather balloon that drifted off course was shot down at 2:28 after it had passed over the Myrtle Beach area. It could be seen on video suddenly popping with a wisps of smoke and beginning to fall.
This is a developing story. Following is Newsmax's previous story.
The Biden administration is moving forward with a plan to shoot down a large Chinese balloon suspected of conducting surveillance on the U.S. military, by bringing it down once it is above the Atlantic Ocean where the remnants could potentially be recovered, according to two U.S. officials.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operation, said President Joe Biden had given the go-ahead. In a brief remark Saturday in response to a reporter’s question about the balloon, Biden said: “We’re going to take care of it.”
Reuters reported that Biden gave a thumbs up when asked if the U.S. planned to shoot down the balloon.
The balloon was spotted Saturday morning over the Carolinas as it approached the Atlantic coast. In preparation for the operation, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily closed airspace over the Carolina coastline, including the airports in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina, until at least 2:45 p.m. EST Saturday. The FAA was rerouting air traffic from the area and warned of delays as a result of the flight restrictions.
The Coast Guard also advised mariners to immediately leave the area because of U.S. military operations “that present a significant hazard.”
Officials were aiming to time the operation so they could recover as much of the debris as possible before it sinks into the ocean. The Pentagon had previously estimated that the balloon, flying at about 60,000 feet in the air, was about the size of three school buses and that any debris field would be substantial.
Biden had been inclined to down the balloon over land when he was first briefed on it on Tuesday, but Pentagon officials advised against it, warning that the potential risk to people on the ground outweighed the assessment of potential Chinese intelligence gains.
The Charlotte Observer reported Saturday that the balloon had been spotted across the region, and a Twitter user posted video of what appeared to be two military aircraft flying closely over his home in Charlotte, N.C., saying that the balloon had flown over Charlotte and then "these two jets come out of nowhere flying in formation."
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., pointed out Friday night on Twitter that the trajectory of the Chinese spy balloon would include "flyovers near Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune" and said that "President Biden’s decision not to destroy it even as it passed through sparsely populated areas is puzzling, and we deserve answers."
The president has been discussing options concerning the balloon since Tuesday, when advisers warned against shooting it down because falling debris from the equipment attached to it could injure people or damage property.
Defense officials confirmed the balloon's path, telling CNN that it is expected to reach the East Coast before passing out over the sea near the Carolinas Saturday.
Meanwhile, China's Foreign Ministry said Saturday that the balloon that came into U.S. airspace flew as an accident caused by "force majeure," a legal term meaning "greater force" that excludes a party from liability.
A spokesman for the ministry further pointed out that maintaining "contact and communication at all levels” was an important understanding reached by Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting in November in Bali.
The Chinese spokesperson said Saturday that the balloon is a "civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course."
The spokesperson also said that some politicians and U.S. media have "hyped" up the balloon to "attack and smear China."
Friday, the Pentagon said yet another Chinese spy balloon is passing over Latin America, but does not appear to be heading to the United States, a U.S. official said.
The Associated Press contributed
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