Suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down off South Carolina coast
The suspected Chinese spy balloon that has been drifting across the United States for several days has been shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
The balloon was shot down by U.S. fighter jets, in U.S. airspace, just after 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, U.S. officials confirmed to CBS News.
Footage shared on Twitter shows the balloon falling from the sky.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement Saturday afternoon that Mr. Biden had given his authorization on Wednesday “to take down the surveillance balloon as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path.”
Officials had initially advised against shooting down the balloon as it crossed over the nation’s midsection because falling debris could cause risk to people on the ground. However, on Saturday morning, Mr. Biden told reporters that “we’re gonna take care of” the balloon.
On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Biden addressed the operation to take down the balloon after landing in Hagerstown, Maryland.
“They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it, and we’ll have more to report on this a little later,” he said.
CBS News has also confirmed that two naval ships, including the USS Carter Hall, which is equipped with a heavy crane for recovery, are in vicinity of where the balloon fell.
The Federal Aviation Administration closed the airspace and issued a ground stop at three airports in North and South Carolina on Saturday afternoon ahead of the operation.
Austin said the mission to shoot down the ballon was conducted in coordination with the Canadian government.
“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 while responding effectively to the PRC’s unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Austin said, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
Chinese officials have denied that the balloon was meant for surveillance, saying in a statement on Friday that it is a civilian device used for scientific research that was blown off-course by unexpected winds.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York who serves on the Intelligence Committee, praised the operation on Twitter Saturday afternoon, saying that the United States could now “collect the equipment and analyze the technology” used by the Chinese government.
Defense officials previously told CBS News that the surveillance equipment attached to the balloon was the size of two to three school buses.
This is a developing story and will be updated.