It was a daring mission that had been in the works for days. On Saturday afternoon, U.S. fighter jets shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that had been drifting across the United States. Footage of the balloon falling from the sky was shared on Twitter, and the Federal Aviation Administration closed the airspace and issued a ground stop at three airports in North and South Carolina.
The balloon was shot down by U.S. fighter jets in U.S. airspace at 2:39 p.m. ET on Saturday, U.S. officials confirmed to CBS News. A senior defense official told CBS News that an F-22 dispatched out of Langley Air Force Base took down the balloon with one AIM-9X air-to-air missile. The balloon was about six nautical miles off the coast of South Carolina when it was shot down.
Fortunately, there were no indications that any military personnel, civilian aircraft or maritime vessels were harmed. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement Saturday afternoon that President 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.
The operation was conducted in coordination with the Canadian government. Austin said that 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.
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.
The U.S. was able to study the balloon’s equipment and surveillance materials and pick up valuable intelligence while the balloon was aloft. Multiple Navy and Coast Guard vessels, including the USS Carter Hall — which is equipped with a heavy crane for recovery — were in vicinity of where the balloon fell for debris collection.
Sen. Chuck Schumer 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.
It was a daring mission that ended in success. The United States was able to take down the suspected Chinese spy balloon and collect valuable intelligence while keeping American lives safe. It was a mission that demonstrated the United States’ commitment to protecting its sovereignty and the safety of its citizens.