- The action occurred Saturday afternoon.
- President Joe Biden praised fighter pilots for bringing the balloon down.
- Officials in the United States were originally hesitant to shoot down the device.
WASHINGTON – A US fighter aircraft shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, the Pentagon said, in response to Beijing’s “unacceptable violation” of US sovereignty.
President Joe Biden praised fighter pilots for bringing the balloon down in US airspace and above US territorial waters after it had been flying above the country for days.
“They successfully took it down. And I want to compliment our aviators who did it,” Biden told reporters in Maryland.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called the operation a “deliberate and lawful action” that came in response to China´s “unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” he said.
The action occurred Saturday afternoon, following the temporary closure of three southeastern airports as part of a “national security endeavor,” according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The balloon looked to be descending vertically to the water in footage carried on US television networks.
Officials in the United States were originally hesitant to shoot down the device, afraid that it may injure people and damage property on the ground.
When asked about the incident earlier in the day on Saturday, Biden pledged to “take care” of it.
As soon as possible
Biden told reporters Saturday he had initially ordered the military on Wednesday to shoot down the craft “as soon as possible.”
“They decided — without doing damage to anyone on the ground… that the best time to do that was as it got over water,” Biden said.
The controversy erupted Thursday when American officials said they were tracking a large Chinese “surveillance balloon” in US skies.
As a result, Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a rare trip to Beijing intended to defuse increasing US-China tensions on Friday.
After some reluctance, Beijing recognized possession of the “airship,” but claimed it was a weather balloon that had been blown off course, and expressed regret for the incident.
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” China´s foreign ministry said in a statement Friday.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure,” it said, using the legal term for an act outside of human control.
The balloon had sailed over portions of the northwestern United States, notably Montana, which are home to key airbases and strategic nuclear weapons in underground silos, heightening fears.
A sheriff in York County, South Carolina, cautioned residents not to try to shoot down the plane.
“Yes, there are reports that the Chinese balloon is flying over our area at the moment,” said a post on the Twitter account of Sheriff Kevin Tolson.
“It´s flying at 60,000+ feet. Don´t try to shoot it!! Your rifle rounds WILL NOT reach it. Be responsible. What goes up will come down, including your bullets.”
The balloon was apparently flying at a height considerably above that of commercial airliners, while several private pilots complained on social media that it was too close.
The Pentagon announced Friday that another suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was detected over Latin America, but did not specify where it was seen.
Chinese spy balloon changes course
Chinese spy balloon is now flying eastward at about 60,000 feet (18,300...