The Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon that flew over the United States this week, fueling tensions between the superpowers, has been shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
An operation to recover its debris is now underway, the Associated Press reported.
Video of the moment of the shoot-down was captured from the ground and shared on social media.
Prior to the shoot-down, footage appearing to show jets circling the balloon near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina circulated on social media.
Ahead of time, ground stops halted civilian air traffic along the coast. The Coast Guard also worked to clear the water, AP reported.
The Pentagon first announced on Thursday that it had been tracking a Chinese surveillance balloon flying over the U.S. in recent days. On Friday, the Pentagon said the balloon was heading east somewhere over the central part of the country.
By Saturday morning, the balloon was spotted over North Carolina heading for the Atlantic Coast, the Associated Press reported.
In his first public comment on the balloon, President Joe Biden said on Saturday, “We’re gonna take care of it,” as reported by NBC News.
The balloon came as tensions were already rising between the U.S. and China. Its appearance resulted in the U.S. canceling a planned visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken that would have been the first from a top U.S. diplomat since 2018.
The Pentagon had said the balloon was flying higher than civilian aircraft, posed no threat to people on the ground, and likely couldn’t gather more data than is already available to Chinese low-earth orbit satellites.
A senior defense official said that the spy balloon had at one point been spotted over a sparsely populated area of Montana, which is home to some nuclear missile silos.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Biden on Wednesday ordered the balloon to be taken down once there was no longer “undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path.”
Military commanders determined that it couldn’t be safely downed over land because the debris field would cover a wide area due to the balloon’s size and altitude, Austin said. Instead, it was shot down over U.S. territorial waters.
China confirmed that the balloon was one of its own, but insisted that it was a “mainly meteorological” research balloon that blew off course. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said China “regrets” the “unintended” incident.”
The Pentagon announced late on Friday that another Chinese spy balloon was being tracked somewhere over Latin America, as reported by NBC News.
This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.