The U.S. Air Force shot down a Chinese spy balloon Saturday afternoon over the Atlantic Ocean, officials said. The balloon’s sensor package appeared to have separated from the balloon intact, and is the subject of an intense recovery effort, sources told Soldier of Fortune.
Earlier in the day, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for airports in North and South Carolina. The FAA also restricted the airspace near Myrtle Beach in order “to support the Defense Department in a national security effort.”
The balloon was first spotted in the sky over Montana earlier this week and traveled east until heading out over the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 4. As it floated atop North Carolina, the York County Sheriff’s Office warned residents against trying to take down the balloon themselves.
“It’s flying at 60,000 + feet. Don’t try to shoot it!! Your rifle rounds WILL NOT reach it,” the sheriff’s office told residents.
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President Joe Biden said on Saturday that “we’re going to take care of it,” when asked about the balloon.
VIdeo footage showed an explosion, followed by the balloon losing altitude over the ocean.
The U.S. on Wednesday prepared F-22 fighter jets, and imposed a 50-mile radius ground stop on air traffic in Montana, among other responses to a Chinese spy balloon above the western United States, sources told Soldier of Fortune.
That ground stop occurred one day before the Pentagon convened a hasty Thursday late afternoon briefing to tell reporters about the balloon.
Other measures included sending an AWACS radar plane and two aerial refueling tankers to an area near Billings, Montana.
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People in Billings saw what some believed was a UFO.
“I thought it might be an alien spacecraft,” local resident Christine Moore told Soldier of Fortune.
Billings resident Chase Doak told a local news outlet that he took video of the “big white circle in the sky.” He, too, thought he might be seeing a floater from outer space. “I thought maybe it was a legitimate UFO,” he said. “So I wanted to make sure I documented it and took as many photos as I could.”
China maintains that the airship is a weather balloon that was blown off course. The Pentagon said otherwise.
“We do not doubt that this is a [People’s Republic of China] balloon,” a senior defense official told reporters. “And that is an assessment shared across our intelligence and analytic community.” The balloon seemed to be lingering over an area where the U.S. has fields of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, the official said.