The skies over the U.S. Eastern Seaboard were abuzz Saturday as a suspected Chinese spy balloon made its way across the Carolinas. It was a sight to behold for the lucky few who were able to catch a glimpse of the massive, white balloon, which was estimated to be the size of three school buses.
The Biden administration faced a difficult decision on how to handle the situation, as shooting down the balloon over land posed a risk to people on the ground from falling debris. After much deliberation, President Biden approved the mission to shoot it down on Wednesday, with the Pentagon determining the best time to do so was when the balloon was over water.
Fighter jets successfully shot down the balloon off the Carolina coast, and an operation was launched to recover the debris. The FAA Administration temporarily closed airspace over the Carolina coastline, including the airports in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina, and rerouted air traffic from the area.
The Coast Guard also advised mariners to immediately leave the area because of U.S. military operations “that present a significant hazard.” The balloon had been spotted earlier that morning in upstate South Carolina, including Greenville and Spartanburg, and suburban Charlotte in North Carolina.
The balloon had been seen earlier in the week in Alaska, and there were reports of sightings in Montana, where nuclear missiles are siloed. In response, the FAA had temporarily halted commercial flights at the airport in Billings, Montana.
The fascination with the balloon that swept the nation also spawned fake videos that purported to show it being shot down, including one out of Billings that purported to show a “massive explosion” over the city Friday evening. The sheriff’s office in York County, South Carolina, even had to take to Twitter to warn people against shooting at the balloon.
Software engineer and storm chaser Brian Branch was able to capture photographs of the balloon high above western North Carolina just hours before it was shot down. He watched the balloon for about an hour and 15 minutes before it drifted into the path of the sun.
The suspected Chinese spy balloon was a spectacle that captivated the nation and drew attention to the delicate balance between national security and safety. It was a reminder that, while the skies may seem peaceful, there is always something to keep an eye out for.