Chinese Spy Balloon Shot Down Over Atlantic

The Biden administration shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon on Saturday afternoon after it flew across the United States earlier this week.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) closed down airspace over parts of North Carolina and South Carolina amid reports that the White House was considering shooting down the balloon.

President Joe Biden faced calls to shoot it down ever since it was first spotted hovering over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday. However, national security officials had declined to do so, citing concerns that the risk to civilians on the ground from debris outweighs the potential surveillance China could obtain.

The balloon was downed at about 2:40 p.m. ET by an F-22 fighter jet, which fired a missile at the balloon while it was about six nautical miles off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, according to the Associated Press. The debris landed in 47 feet of water, but it was not immediately known how long the recovery would take.

Airspace closed as Biden considers shooting balloon
President Joe Biden is seen speaking on February 1. The FAA paused arrivals and departures from several airports over North and South Carolina amid reports that the White House was considering shooting down the Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Biden explained to reporters on Saturday why the balloon was not shot down earlier.

"I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible. They decided—without doing damage to anyone on the ground—they decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water," he said. "Within the 12 mile limit, they successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it."

The president said more information about the balloon would be available at a later point.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote in a statement that U.S. military commanders determined downing the balloon over land posed an "undue" risk due to the size and altitude of the balloon, as well as the surveillance payload.

"In accordance with the President's direction, the Department of Defense developed options to take down the balloon safely over our territorial waters, while closely monitoring its path and intelligence collection activities," he wrote.

As the balloon was spotted over the Carolinas, the FAA ordered all planes in the area to be grounded on Saturday after the Associated Press reported that Biden was considering a plan to shoot out the balloon as it approached the Atlantic Ocean.

An FAA spokesperson told Newsweek before the balloon was shot down into the ocean that departures and arrivals had been paused for airports in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as well as Wilmington, North Carolina, "to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort." The order is in place until 3:30 p.m. ET.

The FAA did not say whether this was specifically due to the Chinese surveillance balloon, but it came just hours after Biden said his administration is "gonna take care of it" in his first public remarks about the situation. Some of the balloon's remnants could be recovered from the Atlantic Ocean, according to the AP.

After the balloon was first spotted over Montana, it continued to travel across the central region of the U.S. It was then spotted over Missouri on Friday evening and over North Carolina on Saturday.

WMBF-TV meteorologist Jamie Arnold tweeted a photograph of the balloon hovering over Myrtle Beach on Saturday.

The situation has further strained relations between the U.S. and China, which were already tense amid the Russia-Ukraine war, and questions about the future of Taiwan's sovereignty. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a planned trip to Beijing this week after the balloon was discovered, which was intended to soothe tensions between the two countries.

Republican critics had pressed Biden to order the balloon to be knocked out, with former President Donald Trump, who is again running for the GOP nomination in 2024, urging Biden to "SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!" in a Truth Social post.

U.S. authorities have maintained they believe the balloon was intended to conduct surveillance over the U.S.—potentially including a nuclear site in Montana. However, China has said it was a weather balloon that was blown off track.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials on Friday confirmed a second balloon was spotted over Latin America, and were working to confirm that it was a Chinese surveillance balloon.

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Defense for comment.

Update 02/24/2023 2:34 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional background.

Update 02/24/2023 2:55 p.m. ET: The story was updated to report the balloon has been shot down.

Update 02/24/2023 4:32 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional details.