Suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down off coast of South Carolina
The suspect Chinese spy balloon that has been drifting over the United States for several days was shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
The balloon was shot down by U.S. warplanes in U.S. airspace at 2:39 p.m. ET Saturday, U.S. officials confirmed to CBS News. A senior defense official told CBS News that an F-22 dispatched from Langley Air Force Base shot down the balloon with an AIM-9X air-to-air missile.
Defense officials previously told CBS News that the surveillance equipment attached to the balloon was the size of two to three school buses.
Senior Biden administration officials told CBS News that after the balloon was launched, the US government spoke directly to the Chinese government about the action. Those Biden officials said the balloon was first spotted over Alaska on Jan. 28.
filming shared on Twitter showed the balloon falling from the sky. The senior defense official told CBS News that the balloon was about six nautical miles off the South Carolina coast when it was shot down.
There is no evidence that military personnel, civilian aircraft or seagoing vessels were injured, the defense official said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement Saturday afternoon Mr Biden gave his approval Wednesday to “dismantle the surveillance balloon as soon as the mission can be completed without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path.”
Officials initially advised against launching the balloon as it crossed the nation’s central section because falling debris could pose a risk to people on the ground. On Saturday morning, however, Mr. Biden told reporters that “we’re going to take care of the balloon.”
The Federal Aviation Administration closed the airspace and granted a ground stop at three airports in North and South Carolina on Saturday afternoon before surgery. Flights resumed shortly after the balloon was dismantled.
After the surgery, Mr. Biden addressed the surgery to dismantle the balloon after landing in Hagerstown, Maryland.
“They successfully mined it and I want to compliment our airmen who did it and we’ll have more to report on that a little later,” he said.
A senior military official told CBS News that several Navy and Coast Guard vessels, including the USS Carter Hall — which is equipped with a heavy recovery crane — were near where the debris-collection balloon was deployed had come down.
The senior military official said that while the debris is spread across a field about seven miles long, it is in shallow water. The official said the recovery process is likely to be relatively short.
On Facebook, South Carolina’s North Myrtle Beach Police Department warned residents that some “parts” of the balloon “could wash ashore.”
“All stray pieces are expected in the North Carolina area but may wash ashore in (North Myrtle Beach),” police wrote. “If a piece is found, please contact your local law enforcement agency for pickup.”
The senior defense official also said the US was able to study the balloon’s equipment and surveillance footage and gather valuable intelligence while the balloon was in the air.
Austin said the mission to launch the balloon was conducted in coordination with the Canadian government.
“Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety of the American people first while responding effectively to the PRC’s unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Austin said, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
Chinese officials have denied the balloon was intended for surveillance, saying in a statement on Friday it is a civilian device used for scientific research and was thrown off course by unexpected winds.
But senior Biden administration officials told CBS News Saturday night that the White House believes the balloon’s route over many potentially sensitive locations contradicted China’s claims that it was merely a weather research satellite.
A second balloon that flew over Central and South America this week is also said to be a Chinese surveillance balloon, the official said.
Both wear surveillance gear not normally associated with normal meteorological activity, officials added.
The balloon was first spotted over Alaska on Jan. 28, Biden officials told CBS News.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) began tracking it but did not consider it an intelligence risk or threat at the time, Biden officials said.
The balloon entered Canadian airspace and reentered U.S. airspace on Tuesday, Biden officials said. On the same day, Mr. Biden directed the military to present options for launching the balloon immediately.
Meanwhile, the military also took steps to mitigate the balloon’s ability to gather sensitive information, Biden officials said.
The military Wednesday then presented Mr. Biden with options, advising that launching the balloon over land was too risky, officials said, and the president then directed the military to come up with a plan to launch the balloon over water.
NASA was also brought in to determine what the debris field might look like when the balloon was shot down, Biden officials said. The military was also studying ways to bring down the balloon while recovering its payload, Biden officials confirmed.
Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, praised the action on Twitter Saturday afternoon and said the United States could now “collect the equipment and analyze the technology used by the Chinese government.”