The United States shot down the Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of Carolina on Saturday, a US official said, sparking a tense exchange between the two nations.

An F-22 Raptor with a single missile shot down the balloon at 2:39 p.m., according to a senior defense official. It was between 60,000 and 65,000 feet in the air when it was shot down.

The action came a couple of hours after President Joe Biden responded to a reporter who asked if the United States would shoot down the balloon. “We’ll take care of that,” Biden said, in his first public comments on the balloon.

In comments to reporters after the balloon was shot down, Biden said he gave the order to the Pentagon after being informed on Wednesday.

«They decided, without harming anyone on the ground, that the best time to do it was when the water passed,» he said. “They successfully shot it down and I want to congratulate our Airmen who did it. And we’ll have more to report on this a bit later.»

The US and China exchanged strong words after the balloon was shot down, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressing in a statement its «strong discontent and protest at the use of force» by the US.

“The Chinese side had clearly requested the US side to properly handle the situation in a calm, professional and restrained manner,” the statement said, adding that the US was an “obvious overreaction and a serious violation of customary international practice.” .

«The Chinese side will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the companies concerned, while reserving the right to provide necessary responses,» the statement said.

The ministry has said the balloon was «a civil aircraft used for research, primarily for meteorological purposes», and that it entered US airspace due to Force Majeurea point the ministry reiterated in its statement on Saturday, calling it a «completely accidental situation.»

A senior administration official reacted to China’s statement on Saturday, doubling down on the position that the balloon was a surveillance balloon that «deliberately traversed» the US and Canada «and we are certain was seeking to monitor sensitive military sites.» «.

The administration official said that both the balloon that was shot down and a second balloon observed over Latin America have surveillance equipment atypical of «standard meteorological activities or civilian investigation,» and that flight patterns and video show engines and propellers, which means they can be maneuvered.

“In fact, all these balloons are part of a PRC balloon fleet developed to conduct surveillance operations, which have also violated the sovereignty of other countries,” the senior official said. «In recent years, Chinese balloons have been seen in countries on five continents.»

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that the balloon was shot down «over US territorial waters» off the coast of South Carolina.

“This afternoon, under the direction of President Biden, a U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully shot down the PRC-launched high-altitude surveillance balloon belonging to the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” Austin said in the statement.

«The balloon, which was being used by the People’s Republic of China in an attempt to survey strategic sites in the continental United States, was shot down over United States territorial waters,» it said.

Biden on Wednesday «gave his authorization to shoot down the balloon as soon as the mission could be carried out without undue risk to the lives of Americans in the path of the balloon,» he added. «After careful analysis, US military commanders determined that shooting down the balloon while on the ground posed an undue risk to people over a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload.» .

The balloon debris field stretches for about 7 nautical miles, and ships and navy divers are expected to help recover the pieces, a senior US military official told NBC News.

The balloon is shot down off the Carolina coast on February 4, 2023.
The balloon is shot down off the Carolina coast on February 4, 2023.Radha Herring

Balloon crossed over ‘sensitive sites’, official says

The balloon entered US airspace on January 28 north of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska before entering Canadian airspace on Monday, the senior defense official said. It re-entered US airspace Tuesday over northern Idaho.

Officials have been analyzing the balloon in recent days, a senior defense official said, noting that it was «clearly crossing sensitive sites, including sensitive military sites.»

“We have learned technical things about this balloon and its surveillance capabilities and I suspect that if we manage to recover parts of the debris, we will learn even more,” the defense official said.

Hours before it was shot down, residents of North Carolina and South Carolina reported seeing the spy balloon, and the Federal Aviation Administration said it had halted departures and arrivals at three local airports to support the Department of Defense in » a national security effort.

Flights to and from all three airports, Wilmington International Airport and Myrtle Beach International Airport in North Carolina, and Charleston International Airport in South Carolina, have resumed, the FAA said Saturday afternoon in an update.

An airplane flies below a large balloon as it hovers above Kingstown, NC
A plane flies under a large balloon as it hovers over the Kingstown, North Carolina, area on February 4.Brian Branch via AP

Videos are circulating on social media showing fighter jets taking aim at the spy balloon and shooting it down. The jets are seen approaching the balloon before it begins to fall from the sky.

The two F-22s used for the mission were named FRANK01 and FRANK02, after Frank Luke Jr., a World War I hero known for destroying German observation balloons, a senior US military official said.

Lawmakers react

Some lawmakers took to social media to applaud Biden’s decision to take down the spy balloon, while others criticized his administration’s handling of the situation.

“I strongly condemn President Xi’s brazen incursion into US airspace, and commend President Biden’s leadership in shooting down the Chinese balloon over water to ensure the safety of all Americans,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck tweeted. Schumer, after the news.

“Now we can collect the equipment and analyze the technology used by the CCP,” added the New York Democrat.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted: «Administrator should have taken care of this before it became a national security threat. I hope we can recover the remains to help determine what intelligence the CCP collected while its spy balloon hovered over our country for days. I will demand answers and hold the administrator accountable for this shameful display of weakness.»

Recovery efforts underway

A senior US military official said there was no timetable for how long the recovery would take, but the official expected it to be a short period.

The City of North Myrtle Beach urged residents to report any sightings of debris along the coast to your non-emergency dispatch line.

“The rubble must not be touched, moved or removed,” he said. «Such items are part of a federal investigation and tampering could interfere with that investigation.»

Now that the balloon has been shot down, the Biden administration should make clear to China the seriousness of its violation of US airspace, a former Obama administration official has said.

Brett Bruen, who was director of global engagement at Barack Obama’s White House, said in an interview on Saturday that Chinese President Xi Jinping «is looking into and testing how far he can push the West and Biden in particular, and we have to respond in a strong and sustained way.”

Bruen suggested that the United States consider recalling its ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, to protest China’s actions.