US military forces shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon on Saturday that traveled the skies across America for nearly a week before reaching the coast of the Carolinas on Saturday morning.
The Federal Aviation Administration and Coast Guard cleared the airspace — including the airports in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, as well as in Wilmington, North Carolina — as the balloon traveled off the coast. The FAA rerouted air traffic from the area, warning of delays due to the flight restrictions as military personnel prepared to shoot the aerial vehicle down. The maritime areas below the balloon were cleared as well.
US forces worked to recover as much of the debris as possible before it sank beneath the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, according to Associated Press.
Blinken Cancels Planned Trip to Beijing
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has cancelled his planned visit to Beijing over the week-long presence of a Chinese surveillance balloon in America’s skies. As of Saturday, the balloon was spotted over North Carolina.
Chinese Spy Balloon sighting:
?: 8:50 AM February 4, 2023
?: Fairview, NC 28730
?: 195° moving ESE pic.twitter.com/hFfJAot9Is
— Evan Fisher (@EFisherWX) February 4, 2023
China has denied the “airship” in America’s airspace is anything other than a vehicle for “meteorological and other scientific research” that simply lost its way, according to Reuters and CBS News.
Nevertheless, Secretary Blinken cancelled his planned trip to meet with China’s President Xi in Beijing over the incident. In addition, a Chinese official was summoned to the State Department for a formal US complaint.
“I made clear that the presence of this surveillance balloon in US airspace is a clear violation of US sovereignty and international law, that it’s an irresponsible act,” Blinken told reporters in a briefing.
Second Chinese Spy Balloon Heading to US?
A second Chinese spy balloon has also now been spotted heading for the US, the Pentagon said this weekend.
“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America,” Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters in a statement. “We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon.”
Canada’s Department of National Defense said in a statement late Thursday it was monitoring “a potential second incident,” but did not specify what that might be.
First Chinese Spy Balloon Tours US Skies
The first Chinese spy balloon appeared earlier this week in the skies over Montana, where the US has more than 150 nuclear missiles in storage at Malmstrom Air Force Base. On Friday, it was spotted over Missouri, where Whiteman Air Force Base is located.
That balloon is carrying a payload of cameras and antennas as big as two or three school buses, according to a report by CBS News, which reported the balloon itself is “much larger”. The aerial vehicle is powered by solar panels and steered by a rudder, with prevailing winds pushing it eastward across the United States at an altitude of 66,000 feet – way above the altitude used by commercial aircraft.
The aerial vehicle is not carrying any weapons and is not likely to collect any intelligence not already picked up by Chinese spy satellites in their frequent orbits over the United States.
Pentagon officials say the balloon travelled from China to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and then continued on through northwestern Canada before arriving Wednesday in the skies over Montana. By Friday it was over the center of the country.
Ryder was clear that the aerial vehicle is a surveillance balloon – as is the second one now on the way.
He added the US military did not shoot down the first balloon because “it is big enough that … any potential debris field would be significant and potentially cause civilian injuries or deaths or significant property damage.”
President Joe Biden told reporters in a briefing on Saturday morning that once the balloon reaches an area where it would be safe to shoot down, “we’re gonna take care of it.”