The US has shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the Carolina coast. China has claimed that the alleged Chinese surveillance balloon was actually a "civilian airship" that had strayed from its intended course.
American officials first announced the alleged spy balloon had been observed on Thursday (2 February), but the Pentagon had originally opted against shooting it down owing to the possibility that flying debris could potentially injure people on the ground.
President Joe Biden confirmed the suspected spy balloon had been shot down on Saturday (4 February) sharing that military personnel had “successfully took it down.” There have been high tensions between US and Chinese relations following the discovery of the balloon, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly cancelling a planned trip to Beijing aimed at easing tensions.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has said that it reserved the right to “take further actions” and criticised the US, calling it “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice”. So, what happened and when did the US bring down the suspected spy balloon? Here is everything you need to know about the incident.
When was the spy balloon first spotted?
The object flew across Alaska's Aleutian Islands and through Canada, according to US officials, before appearing over the city of Billings in the US state of Montana.
Brig Gen Patrick Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, provided a brief statement on the issue, saying that the government has continued to track the balloon. He said it was “travelling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground”. Montana is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of the country's three nuclear missile silo fields. The balloon’s altitude and length of time it lingered over a location was concerning, the official added.
Fighter jets, including F-22s, were placed on alert to shoot down the balloon at the White House's request, however the Pentagon initially advised against taking down the balloon, saying that even though it was flying over a sparsely populated area of Montana, its size could still result in a large enough debris field to endanger people on the ground.
The official would not specify the size of the balloon but said it was big enough that commercial pilots could see it despite its high altitude. A photograph of a large white balloon lingering over the area was captured by the Billings Gazette, though the Pentagon would not confirm if that was the surveillance balloon. All air traffic at the Billings, Montana, Logan International Airport was placed on a temporary ground stop on Wednesday (1 February) as the military provided options to the White House.
When was it shot down?
The suspected spy balloon was shot down on Saturday off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Pentagon confirmed that an F-22 fighter jet had fired a missile at it at 2:40pm EST (7:40pm GMT), causing it to puncture. The US Navy are currently working to retrieve the remains.
President Biden confirmed that he had ordered the craft to be shot down after it had travelled over sensitive military sites. The US President said: “They successfully took it down and I want to compliment our aviators who did it.”
How has China responded?
China have continued to claim that the alleged Chinese surveillance balloon was actually a “civilian airship” that had strayed from its intended course. In its statement on Sunday (5 February), China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that they reserved the right to “take further actions” and criticised the US for “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice”. Adding: “China will resolutely uphold the relevant company’s legitimate rights and interests, and at the same time reserving the right to take further actions in response”.
The incident has caused high tensions between US and Chinese relations, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly cancelling a planned trip to Beijing aimed at easing tensions.