[Editors note: This story was originally published on Saturday, Feb. 4 within an hour of the balloon’s destruction]
It’s taken days to finally make a decision to do something about the Chinese surveillance balloon that’s been floating over the nation for far too long, but on Saturday, Feb. 4, the government took action. Not long after President Joe Biden told the press, “We’re gonna take care of it,” fighter jets shot the balloon down on the Atlantic Coast. At 2:38 p.m. Eastern time, the balloon could be seen bursting and the debris plummeting toward Myrtle Beach.
The spy machine was reported as being roughly the size of three school buses, filled with cameras and other surveillance equipment. The Federal Aviation Authority issued a ground stop at Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Wilmington’s international airports around 1 p.m. The Coast Guard warned seafarers to immediately leave the area because of military operations “that present a significant hazard,” the Daily Mail explained.
Officials chose the take-down location, hoping to recover as much of the wreckage as possible before it could sink into the ocean. The intelligence-gathering balloon was first “officially” spotted hovering over Montana, and the state’s local government immediately started demanding action. However, China’s Foreign Ministry argued that it wasn’t a spy vessel but a civilian weather device that had somehow been blown off course.
According to a prominent Washington newspaper, though:
“The balloons are part of an extensive Chinese military surveillance program that has been running for years, involving a Chinese company supplying the technology to the People’s Liberation Army, said two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.”
The balloon’s cargo included “some sophisticated communications gear” and was seen flying over strategic military areas, including Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base, which houses nuclear missile silos. According to the outlet, “U.S. officials believe that the balloon both drifts with air currents and has the ability to be directed. The bottom of the balloon is outfitted with propellers… “
A resident of a rural farming community near Myrtle Beach, Danielle Skipper, told the newspaper that she and her family had watched the balloon near her home, saying it was “lingering big time,” for more than an hour. She said there were a lot of jets around it, circling in wide arcs and then moving in closer.
Another Chinese spy balloon was located a few days ago over Latin America, and US government officials suspect there is yet a third balloon somewhere. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to go to China on a diplomatic trip but has indefinitely postponed it after the discovery of the balloon.
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