A US Airforce F-22 fighter jet on Saturday shot down the Chinese spy balloon that floated across American airspace, eight days and 4,000 miles after it first crossed the US border. The balloon was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed Saturday.
The operation brought an end to a dramatic public drama that caused a diplomatic split between Washington and Beijing, as the American people followed the balloon from Montana all the way to the Carolinas. The balloon's collapse and descent from the sky could be seen on television, despite the US's insistence that it was spying and China's claim that it was for meteorological purposes.
Shot Down in One Go
US officials said an F-22 Raptor fighter jet shot down the balloon with a single AIM-9X sidewinder missile six miles off the coast of South Carolina at 2:38 pm on Saturday. According to a senior military expert, the debris field was nearly seven miles wide, and the water's depth was estimated to be 47 feet.
"On Wednesday, when I was briefed on the balloon, I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible, without doing damage to anyone on the ground," Joe Biden told reporters.
"I want to compliment our aviators who did it," President Biden told reporters as he cheered the downing en route to Camp David.
The two aircraft, both of which were based at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, circled the surveillance craft as it approached the South Carolina coast while the Federal Aviation Administration closed three airports in North and South Carolina and the airspace over Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Wilmington due to "national security initiatives,"
One of the F-22s fired a single AIM-9X missile at the balloon once it had drifted safely into the Atlantic, according to a senior military source.
At 2:39 pm, the air-to-air, heat-seeking, supersonic projectile found its target about 7 miles off the coast of Myrtle Beach.
The enormous white sphere, which experts compared to three school buses in size, disintegrated in a cloud of white smoke, leaving behind its wreckage as its bulky solar panels and surveillance equipment fell into the ocean below.
US Navy and Coast Guard warships secured a perimeter in order to enable "competent Navy divers" and unmanned vessels to gather the debris, which washed ashore in around 47 feet of water
The Chinese craft "was being used by the PRC in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States," Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said.
"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," Austin said.
Who Reaches First
Approximately an hour after the balloon descended, local airports resumed regular operations, according to the FAA. Locals in Horry County, South Carolina, were advised to stay away from any debris that had washed up on the area's beaches and to report any remnants to the authorities so that they can be included in an inquiry by the federal government.
Dexter Roberts, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Asia Security Initiative, said the spy balloon saga came as the relationship between the United States and China hit "one of its lowest points in many years."
"The fact that it was over US sovereign airspace is very bad news for the US-China relationship," Roberts told The Post, noting the host of flash points â Taiwan's independence, human rights issues, and China's support of the Russian war in Ukraine â between the two superpowers.
However, there are growing concerns that China may find the debris of their lost spy balloon before the US Navy as a salvage vessel won't arrive at the area for days.
A senior advisor stated that an official salvage vessel won't arrive for a few days, despite the fact that numerous Navy and Coast Guard vessels are in the region building a security and search perimeter.
The balloon's appearance surprised the country as it hovered over many nuclear silos before crashing into the ocean, and there is presently no estimated time for its recovery.
Video footage showed the two F-22 fighter jets rushing toward the balloon and shooting a missile as stunned bystanders watched from the coast.
Biden first learned about the balloon on Sunday, January 28, when it was first seen over Alaska. On Tuesday, the US military followed it as it flew over Canadian airspace and returned to US soil.
Biden received a thorough report on the plane's trajectory the next day in the presence of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Biden wanted to tear it down at first, but Milley and Austin opposed him, according to insiders, citing the risk of falling rubble.
Meanwhile, the administration headed to the Chinese embassy seeking an explanation as they continued to get ready for Blinken's historic diplomatic visit.
The administration finally informed the public on Thursday, after a local Montana newspaper, the Billings Gazette, released pictures of the balloon,
The Pentagon disagreed with China's apology for the overflight, stating that the object was a maneuverable surveillance aircraft rather than a weather balloon that had been blown off track.
One of the states over which the balloon flew over was Montana, which is home to some of the US stockpile of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.