A massive Chinese surveillance balloon that moved across the continental U.S. this week has been shot down.
The Pentagon has confirmed the balloon was being used for surveillance, disputing China's claim that it was a civilian aircraft used for meteorological purposes. Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the balloon didn't pose a physical or military threat, and once it was detected, the U.S. took steps to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned trip to China as the balloon's presence over the continental U.S. added new tension to the U.S.-China relationship. Blinken called the balloon a "clear violation" of U.S. sovereignty and international law.
Feb 4, 9:53 PM
US pushes back against China’s weather balloon claims
A senior U.S official has pushed back against China's claim that their balloon was simply for the weather and that it was indeed intended for surveillance.
"Its route over the United States near many potentially sensitive sites contradicts the PRC government explanation that it is a weather balloon," a senior administration official said.
The official noted that the suspected spy balloon was also not only operating in the U.S. but spotted over five continents.
"Both balloons also carry surveillance equipment not usually associated with standard meteorological activities or civilian research. Collection pod equipment and solar panels located on the metal truss suspended below the balloon are a prominent feature of both balloons," the official said.
-ABC News' MaryAlice Parks
Feb 4, 9:31 PM
China expresses 'strong discontent and protest' after balloon downing
The Chinese foreign ministry criticized the United States for downing its balloon.
"China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and protest against the U.S. using force to attack civilian unmanned airships," the statement said.
The ministry asserted that they told the U.S. that the suspected spy balloon was an airship "for civilian use and entered the US due to force majeure, which was completely accidental. China clearly requires the US to handle it properly in a calm, professional and restrained manner."
China noted that the U.S. Department of Defense stated that the balloon did not pose a military or personal threat.
"In these circumstances, for the United States to insist on using armed force is clearly an excessive reaction that seriously violates international convention," the statement said. "China will resolutely defend the legitimate rights and interests of the enterprise involved, and retains the right to respond further."
Feb 4, 8:52 PM
Mayor of Myrtle Beach criticizes balloon downing
The mayor of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has criticized the government for its handling of downing the suspected spy balloon.
Mayor Brenda Bethune wrote "While this was done in a manner that ensured the safety of our citizens, I do have concerns about how the federal government can allow a foreign adversary to fly uninterrupted from Montana to our doorstep."
Bethune added that she wanted the government to be more forthcoming about the circumstances surrounding the balloon.
"I hope we hear from our federal government how this happened and how they will prevent this, or anything like it, from happening again," she wrote.
Feb 4, 5:35 PM
China has fleet of surveillance balloons, senior defense official says
China has a fleet of these types of surveillance balloons, according to a senior defense official, including the one that was spotted flying over Venezuela and Colombia this week.
"These balloons are all part of a [People's Republic of China] fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance operations, which have also violated the sovereignty of other countries. These kinds of activities are often undertaken at the direction of the People's Liberation Army or PLA," the official said. "Over the past several years, Chinese balloons have previously been spotted over countries across five continents, including in East Asia, South Asia and Europe.”
-ABC News' Luis Martinez
Feb 4, 5:20 PM
Residents warned not to touch balloon debris
Authorities in the Myrtle Beach area are advising residents not to touch debris if it washes up on shore and to contact police dispatch if they see any.
"Debris should not be touched, moved, or removed," the Horry County Police Department said on social media.
⚠️REPORT DEBRIS TO DISPATCH⚠️
Earlier today, federal authorities conducted operations off the coast of Horry County that could result in debris in area waters.
Members of the US Military are coordinating to collect debris; however, fragments may make it to the coastline. pic.twitter.com/O5UZtC7EDZ
— Horry County PD (@horrycountypd) February 4, 2023
The North Myrtle Beach Police Department also advised residents to contact law enforcement if they see any "stray pieces" of the balloon wash ashore.
-ABC News' Matt Foster
Feb 4, 4:27 PM
Navy, Coast Guard searching for debris off Carolina coast
A senior military official said multiple Navy and Coast Guard vessels are in the area now establishing a security perimeter and searching for debris on the water "to ensure the safety of U.S. civilians."
A Navy salvage vessel will be on scene within a couple of days, according to the official.
-ABC News' Matt Seyler
Feb 4, 4:05 PM
Balloon had 'intelligence value,' official says
A senior U.S. defense official gave more details about the takedown, stating the balloon was hit at approximately 2:39 p.m. by a single F-22 fighter jet firing a single AIM-9X air-to-air missile.
"Fighter aircraft from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia fired a single missile into the balloon, causing it to crash into the ocean," the official said.
The defense official said there was value in waiting to shoot down the balloon aside from just the safety of people on the ground, and indicated it had intelligence value to the U.S.
"The surveillance balloon's overflight of U.S. territory was of intelligence value to us. I can't go into more detail, but we were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable," the official said.
-ABC News' Matt Seyler
Feb 4, 3:52 PM
Fighter aircraft brought down balloon off Carolina coast: Defense secretary
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed the Chinese surveillance balloon was taken down by a fighter aircraft as it drifted off the Carolina coast.
"This afternoon, at the direction of President Biden, U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to U.S. Northern Command successfully brought down the high altitude surveillance balloon launched by and belonging to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the water off the coast of South Carolina in U.S. airspace," Austin said in a statement. "The balloon, which was being used by the PRC in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States, was brought down above U.S. territorial waters."
Austin said military commanders determined downing the balloon while it flew over land "posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload."
"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.
Feb 4, 3:35 PM
'I told them to shoot it down,' Biden says
President Joe Biden briefly spoke to reporters after the balloon was "successfully" shot down by the U.S. military.
"I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible. They decided -- without doing damage to anyone on the ground – they decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water outside within a 12 mile limit."
"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.
"I told them to shoot it down," Biden repeated when asked if the recommendation came from his national security team. "They said to me, 'Let's wait for the safest place to do it.'"
Feb 4, 3:00 PM
Balloon shot down in US airspace: Official
The Chinese surveillance balloon has been shot down in U.S. airspace, according to a senior U.S. official.
It is expected to land in U.S.territorial waters, the official said, adding that airspace will be reopened once it's in the water.
-ABC News' Josh Margolin