Charlotte, NC

Chinese surveillance device targets the Carolinas today

Barbara Washington
U.S. officials say a Chinese spy balloon is hovering in the Carolina skies today.Photo byFrancesco Ungaro

WILMINGTON, NC- An alleged Chinese spy balloon flying at around 60,000 feet over US airspace has begun its course over the Carolinas early this morning. The balloon is currently hovering over Charlotte, NC.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration trajectory model, the balloon is expected to travel near or over the military bases of Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg before exiting US airspace off the coast of the Carolinas. U.S. Government officials said that in recent years, there has been an increase in spy balloon activity. The balloons provide a longer, slower, more methodical approach to gathering information on the ground, as opposed to satellites which are in common use.

First visibly noticed over Billings, Montana on Feb.1, but previously tracked over the Aleutian Islands and parts of Canada, U.S. Defense officials stated Friday morning in a press briefing that it does not currently pose a threat to the U.S., stating the balloon was “traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.” The official stated that the potential damage of falling debris outweighs the risk of the balloon itself. Montana is the location of some of the United States' nuclear missile silos.

A video created by a Billings woman named Dolly Moore surfaced on Twitter yesterday showing what appeared to be large debris falling from the sky near her home. She said in her tweet she began filming after hearing a jet go by, and then an explosion. Officials later denied they had shot the balloon down.

The National Weather Service has confirmed the instrument was not a weather balloon, which meteorologists send out several times a day to assist with upper-air analysis. While weather balloons are made of latex and filled with hydrogen or helium, and are approximately 20 feet across, this balloon appears to have intelligence-gathering equipment on the bottom extremity and is the size of three buses.

Weather balloons burst once they reach a certain location and the instrument then falls from the sky attached to a parachute, and the typical flight lasts around 2 hours.

U.S. officials say this air balloon is maneuverable and capable of changing course. Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said at a Pentagon press briefing on Friday that the one flying over the U.S. is a Chinese high-altitude balloon flying over sensitive sites to collect information.

According to Ryder, the balloon has no evidence of radioactive or nuclear contents. Photos show surveillance equipment seen hanging from the device.

Several U.S. senators have recently called for the balloon to be shot down, and citizens have taken to social media sites including Twitter and Facebook calling for individuals to shoot it down if the Biden administration will not.

Chinese officials have stated that the balloon was a "civilian airship," intended for meteorological research which was blown off-course, sending it into U.S. airspace. U.S. officials are confident of the balloon's maneuverability. Ryder stated that while spy balloons are relatively common, this is the first time one has loitered over the continental United States for an extended period of time.

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Barbara Washington is a multilingual investigative journalist based in Willmington, NC.

Leland, NC

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