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You can’t shoot down a Chinese spy balloon — and it’s unsafe to try, US officials warn

Debris falling from the sky after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down by an F22 military fighter jet over Surfside Beach, South Carolina, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (Joe Granita/Zuma Press/TNS)

As Chinese spy balloons and other mysterious objects drift over the United States, authorities worry that some residents may be tempted to try to shoot one down.

But it’s a really bad idea, officials warn.

“What goes up will come down, including your bullets,” read a Facebook post by the York County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina as the initial spy balloon passed over the state.

Plus, even rifle rounds could never reach the balloon, estimated at 60,000 feet above sea level, the post read.

“Be responsible,” the sheriff’s post read.

The initial balloon detected as it passed over the United States was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean by a U.S. fighter jet Feb. 4, CNN reported.

U.S. officials identified it as a possible Chinese surveillance operation, although China says it was a weather balloon that blew off-course, Fox News reported.

Since then, U.S. fighters have shot down three other unidentified objects, one over Canada, CNN reported.

Some U.S. officials have referred to the other three objects as balloons, although the Pentagon has shied away from describing them, according to CNN. While the initial balloon flew at 60,000 feet above sea level, the others have been found at altitudes of 20,000 to 40,000 feet.

But they’re all too high up to be hit by civilian firearms on the ground, Big Think reported.

Bullets fired from the ground have a ceiling of about 10,000 feet, according to the publication. That might have been enough to shoot down the Red Baron or other World War I-era aircraft, but it’s far short of the altitudes reached by the objects recently spotted over the U.S. or other modern aircraft.

Not only that, but as the South Carolina sheriff pointed out, those bullets have to go somewhere.

While the chances of a falling bullet striking a person might seem infinitesimal, every year there are reports of people hit by celebratory gunshots into the air on New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July, Big Think reported.

Falling bullets can reach speeds of 150 mph, which is enough to pierce the skin and can be fatal, according to the publication.

“Most of us shouldn’t need coaxing to avoid firing a gun up into the air; in fact, celebratory gunfire is illegal in all 50 states across the country,” Big Think said. “Moreover, if someone is killed by a bullet that you fired, in many states you can be charged with a felony.”

A Feb. 3 Instagram post claiming the Chinese spy balloon was actually shot down by a vigilante with a rifle is bogus, USA Today reported.

The photo with the post actually shows a helium-filled blimp that broke free from a Maryland military facility in 2015. It eventually deflated and came down on its own.


© 2023 The Charlotte Observer

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