On Saturday, President Joe Biden gave the order for the U.S. military to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of North Carolina. The balloon had flown over sensitive military sites in North America and became the latest source of tension between Washington and Beijing.
Biden said he wanted the balloon to be brought down on Wednesday, but he was told that it would be best to do so when the balloon was over water.
Officials in the military decided that bringing it down over land from a height of 60,000 feet would put people on the ground in danger.
On Saturday morning, the balloon was seen over the Carolinas as it headed toward the Atlantic coast.
Senior defense officials said that at about 2:40 p.m. EST, an F-22 fighter jet fired a missile at the balloon, putting a hole in it while it was about 6 nautical miles off the coast near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The wreckage fell in 47 feet of water, which was less than they had expected.
Still, it wasn't clear right away how long it would take to recover.
The Navy is in charge, and the Coast Guard is helping them.
"They took it down successfully, and I want to thank our pilots for doing it," Biden said after getting off Air Force One on the way to Camp David.
All week, Americans watched the sky to see if the mysterious balloon had reached them.
Ashlyn Preaux, 33, went to fetch her mail in Forestbrook, South Carolina, on Saturday and saw her neighbors looking up at the balloon in the cloudless blue sky.
She watched fighter jets circle and the balloon strike.
“I didn't expect to wake up in a ‘Top Gun' movie today,” she remarked.
On Jan. 28, the balloon entered the U.S. air defense zone north of the Aleutian Islands and traveled mostly over land across Alaska before entering Canadian airspace in the Northwest Territories on Monday.
The White House said Biden was initially informed about it on Tuesday, when it crossed into northern Idaho.
The balloon was observed Thursday over Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, one of America's three nuclear missile silo sites.
A senior defense official said the Americans had several days to evaluate the balloon's movement and surveillance capabilities while it sailed over the U.S.
The official spoke to The Associated Press anonymously.
China maintains that the balloon was a meteorological research "airship" blown off track.
The Pentagon dismissed that and China's claim that it was not being used for surveillance and had limited navigational ability.
After the balloon was shown on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a visit to Beijing to deescalate tensions.
On Saturday, China downplayed the cancellation.
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