(WASHINGTON) — U.S. officials say a massive surveillance balloon believed to be from China and seen above Montana is being tracked as it flies over the continental United States.
“The United States government has detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is flying over the continental United States right now,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement on Thursday. “NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] continues to track and monitor it closely.”
China’s foreign ministry has claimed it is a civilian balloon used for meteorological purposes, but U.S. politicians, many on the right, are already demanding President Joe Biden shoot it down.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Feb 05, 10:08 AM EST
‘The whole house just shook’: Witness tells of balloon take down
A South Carolina woman had a front row seat to the military missile strike on a suspected Chinese spy balloon, describing a “loud boom” that rattled her home.
“It literally just flew right over our development, our house,” the witness, Liane Munier of Myrtle Beach, told ABC News. “As soon as I walked outside, I literally looked straight up in the sky and it was right above my head.”
Munier said it appeared the balloon traveled just offshore when several military fighter jets swooped in and shot it down.
“I was outside, I was watching it. You saw all the fighter jets flying around it and circling it, you saw all the air streams. I think there were about five of them. I went back inside for a second and all of a sudden the whole house just shook that it was like a loud boom,” said Munier, who recorded video of the midair episode on her cell phone.
Munier said she initially thought a TV fell off the wall in her daughter’s upstairs bedroom, but when she went back outside, she saw smoke in the sky and “you saw the whole thing deflated.”
“I knew they were planning on shooting it down, but I didn’t think it would be this soon and this close to land,” Munier said.
She said it was a relief to her and many of her neighbors to see the balloon shot out of the sky.
“It was nerve-wracking seeing it fly over,” Munier said. “I’m sure the whole country felt like that, not knowing what it was.”
Feb 04, 9:53 PM EST
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 04, 9:31 PM EST
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 04, 8:52 PM EST
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 04, 5:35 PM EST
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 04, 5:20 PM EST
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.
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 04, 4:27 PM EST
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 04, 4:05 PM EST
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 04, 3:52 PM EST
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 04, 3:33 PM EST
‘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 04, 2:52 PM EST
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
Feb 04, 2:33 PM EST
FAA airspace restrictions extended until 3:30 p.m.
The Federal Aviation Administration has closed additional airspace to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort. The agency also paused departures from and arrivals to Wilmington, Myrtle Beach International and Charleston International airports.
The Temporary Flight Restriction is now in effect until 3:30 p.m.
-ABC News’ Amanda Maile
Feb 04, 1:22 PM EST
FAA issues air space closure for parts of Carolinas
The Federal Aviation Administration has closed airspace in parts of North Carolina and South Carolina. All operations at Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Wilmington airports have been paused for national security initiatives.
The alerts are in effect until 2:45 p.m.
The balloon was spotted Saturday over parts of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Northern Greenville county in South Carolina.
-ABC News’ Sam Sweeney
Feb 04, 11:48 AM EST
Biden on Chinese spy ballon: ‘We’re going to take care of it’
President Joe Biden on Saturday made his first public comments on the Chinese surveillance balloon flying over the continental U.S.
Biden, who is traveling to New York, was asked by a reporter if there were plans to shoot the balloon down.
“We’re going to take care of it,” he responded.
Feb 04, 9:57 AM EST
Blinken speaks with Chinese counterpart
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Friday with Wang Yi, the former foreign minister who has recently been elevated as China’s highest ranking foreign affairs official within the party.
Xinhua News Agency posted a very brief readout of Blinken’s phone call to his direct counterpart Wang Yi which appears to have taken place before Blinken postponed his trip to China.
Wang Yi said that China is a responsible country and has always strictly abided by international law and the two sides need to maintain their determination, communicate and avoid misjudgment.
The readout does not address the postponement of Blinken’s trip because the Chinese government maintains that the trip was never officially announced.
“As a matter of fact, neither China nor the U.S. has announced any visits,” China said previously when addressing Blinken’s postponed trip. “It is the U.S.’s own business to release relevant information, and we respect that.”
Feb 03, 10:14 PM EST
China slams those who ‘took advantage of the issue’
The Chinese Foreign Ministry posted a new statement in a form of a Q&A on their website early Saturday and slammed those taking advantage of the massive surveillance balloon.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed his upcoming trip to China, but the ministry claimed the visit had never been announced.
“As a matter of fact, neither China nor the US has announced any visits. It is the US’s own business to release relevant information, and we respect that,” the statement read.
They also reiterated their denial that the surveillance balloon was being used to spy on the U.S., insisting that China has always abided by international law and that the balloon deviated from its scheduled route.
“This was completely an accident caused by force majeure, and the facts are very clear,” the statement continued.
The United States, elected officials and the media were also accused by the ministry of taking advantage of the incident.
“Some politicians and media in the United States took advantage of the issue to attack and discredit China. China firmly opposes it,” the statement read.
-ABC News’ Karson Yiu and Britt Clennett
Feb 03, 9:32 PM EST
City of Billings denies claims of ‘massive explosion’
The city of Billings, Montana, is aware of a video being shared on social media Friday that claimed an explosion over the city but officials said that there have not been any incidents.
“We are aware of the video shared on Twitter and claims of a “massive explosion” over Billings. However, our PD, Fire & airport have NOT been called to any incidents related to this video and there haven’t been any plane crashes picked up on radar #ChineseSpyBalloon #spyballoon,” the tweet read.
Feb 03, 9:06 PM EST
Second Chinese surveillance balloon flying over South America: US
The Pentagon is now confirming that there is a second Chinese surveillance balloon flying over South America. There were reports earlier Friday of a balloon flying over Colombia and Venezuela, but there was no information until now.
“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement Friday.
-ABC News’ Luis Martinez
Feb 03, 5:49 PM EST
Previous balloon incidents near Hawaii, Guam in 2022: US officials
U.S. officials confirmed that previous balloon incidents involving China occurred near Hawaii and Guam last year.
In February 2022, a balloon appeared to be stationary in international waters northwest of Kauai, Hawaii, the officials said.
The Hawaii incident came shortly after a similar incident that year near Guam, according to one of the officials.
Both incidents in the Pacific involved high-altitude balloons that came from China, the officials said.
-ABC News’ Luis Martinez
Feb 03, 5:30 PM EST
‘Gang of 8’ to be briefed on surveillance balloon next week
The so-called “Gang of 8” will receive a briefing from the administration on the Chinese surveillance balloon next week, according to a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The “Gang of 8” includes congressional leadership and the top Democrat and Republican members of the House and Senate intelligence committees: Schumer, Sen. Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Mark Warner, Rep. Jim Himes and Rep. Mike Turner.
The exact date and time of the briefing is not yet known.
-ABC News’ Allison Pecorin
Feb 03, 4:44 PM EST
US may wait to shoot balloon down over the Atlantic: US official
As the balloon appears to be heading toward North Carolina, the current thinking is to wait until it is over the Atlantic Ocean to then try to shoot it down and retrieve it, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with the situation.
There is too great a risk to try to shoot it down over the continental U.S., the official said. Since the U.S. wants to keep the balloon to study it, and there are otherwise risks of an international incident, U.S. officials are working on plans to shoot it down so that it also lands in U.S. territorial waters, the official said.
A substantial localized airspace shutdown will likely be required in order to protect civilians while the U.S. tries to down the balloon, which is likely being navigated via Chinese spy satellites, the official said.
-ABC News’ Josh Margolin
Feb 03, 4:28 PM EST
’Job One’ is getting balloon out of US airspace: Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, taking questions about the Chinese surveillance balloon, said the first step should be getting it out of U.S. skies.
“Job One is getting it out of our airspace,” he said.
Blinken said they’ve made it clear to China the action is “clearly unacceptable” and addressed further his decision to delay traveling to Beijing until conditions allow for a visit.
“Any country that has its airspace violated in this way, I think would respond similarly,” he said. “And I can only imagine what the reaction would be in China if they were on the other end.”
Feb 03, 4:02 PM EST
Blinken calls Chinese balloon an ‘irresponsible act’ on eve of his planned trip
Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the surveillance balloon an “irresponsible act” by the People’s Republic of China.
Blinken said he made clear to Wang Yi, the director of China’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, that the balloon’s presence is “a clear violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law … and that the PRC’s decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have.”
Blinken postponed his first official trip to China amid the controversy.
The secretary of state said his team had been engaging “for some time” with their counterparts in Beijing to prepare but have now “concluded that conditions were not conducive for a constructive visit at this time.”
The remarks were made Friday during a joint press availability with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin at the State Department.
Feb 03, 2:16 PM EST
Biden first briefed Tuesday, took military’s recommendation on balloon: WH
President Joe Biden was first briefed about the Chinese surveillance balloon on Tuesday, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, two days before the news was publicly confirmed by U.S. officials.
“He asked the military to present options,” she told reporters in a gaggle on Air Force One. “It was the strong recommendation by Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, the commander of Northern Command, not to take kinetic action because of the risk to safety and security of the people on the ground. President Biden took that recommendation from the military seriously.”
“The president will always put the safety of the security of the American people first,” she said.
Jean-Pierre said Biden continues to receive regular briefings from national security team, and that he “agreed” with Secretary of State Blinken’s decision to delay his trip to China.
“We are tracking closely and keeping all options on the table,” the press secretary said.
Feb 03, 1:41 PM EST
Biden again ignores questions on Chinese balloon
President Joe Biden didn’t answer questions reporters shouted about the Chinese surveillance balloon as he left the White House and boarded Marine One shortly after 1 p.m. Friday.
Biden has yet to publicly comment on the balloon since it was confirmed to be flying over the continental U.S. by officials on Thursday.
Biden is heading to Philadelphia, where he and Vice President Kamala Harris will appear at an infrastructure event in the afternoon and then later will speak at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting.
Feb 03, 1:27 PM EST
‘Gang of 8’ staff received classified briefing on Chinese surveillance balloon
Staff to the so-called “Gang of 8” received a classified briefing on the balloon by the administration Thursday afternoon, according to multiple congressional officials.
The “Gang of 8” refers to the group of congressional leaders who are briefed on classified intelligence matters. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., requested a meeting with the group on Thursday.
“China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent,” McCarthy said.
It’s unclear if the classified briefing for the staff is a precursor to their bosses being briefed. No meeting appears to be on the books so far.
-ABC News’ Trish Turner
Feb 03, 12:50 PM EST
Surveillance balloon is ‘maneuverable,’ Pentagon says
After saying the Chinese surveillance ballon was headed eastward, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the balloon is “maneuverable.”
“So, the balloon is maneuverable. Clearly, it’s violated U.S. air space, and again we’ve communicated that fact to the PRC,” Ryder said.
“The balloon has changed its course, which is why we are monitoring it. That is as specific as I can get,” he said, not giving further details on how it could be maneuvered.
“We continue to assess and make appropriate decisions based on how we are going to address what we perceive as a potential threat,” Ryder added. “The safety and security of the American people is paramount. At this time we assess it does not pose a physical threat to people on the ground.”
Feb 03, 10:26 AM EST
Pentagon to hold press briefing at noon
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder will conduct an on-camera press briefing at noon on Friday as the Biden administration faces questions about what U.S. officials call a Chinese surveillance balloon flying over the U.S.
Ryder said in a statement Thursday that the government was tracking the balloon and that it didn’t present a military threat.
“Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years. Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information,” Ryder said.
Feb 03, 9:36 AM EST
Secretary of state delays visit
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is postponing his visit to China after the balloon was tracked soaring across the country.
Blinken will delay his upcoming trip to Beijing, originally scheduled for next week. The official noted that Blinken did not want to blow the situation out of proportion by canceling his visit, but also does not want the balloon to dominate his meetings with Chinese officials.
Feb 03, 9:29 AM EST
China claims balloon is civilian in nature
The Chinese Foreign Ministry is saying the balloon is civilian in nature and used for scientific research, “mainly meteorological.”
“The airship is from China,” the foreign ministry said. “Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure.”
It continued, “The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”
“Force majeure” refers to something that is done beyond the control of the government.
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