The Outer Banks, Carolina Coast -- The FAA and the Department of Defense issued orders to ground all planes at 3 airports in the early afternoon Saturday, Charleston SC, Myrtle Beach SC, and Wilmington NC in effect until 3:30 p.m. EST. At approximately 3:00 p.m. Saturday, the U.S. Navy shot down the Chinese spy balloon that had floated out above the water of the Carolina coast. The US Navy had also deployed a water recovery operation to collect the balloon's debris before it could sink. It was shot over open water to avoid populated areas as much as possible in the event it was carrying anything unexpected or might break up into a large debris field. From the height at which the balloon was traveling, the debris field could have been miles wide if it had been shot down over land. It's no surprise the Pentagon and the POTUS decided not to shoot it down over land as not knowing what the balloon, wich was quite large, was carrying and didn't want to impact civilians on the ground when it was first sighted in Montana on Wednesday.
President Biden has received a great deal of criticism for his failure to order the shoot-down of the balloon when it entered United States air space and drifted to the Billings Montana area on Wednesday. However, we know that the Pentagon had advised the President not to shoot down the balloon when it was first tracked into the US from Canada exactly because of the potential debris field that could be created and the potential damage ensuing from destroying it at an altitude of 60,000 feet.
The planes grounding across the Carolinas was called for national defense purposes and is important because it indicates that the 20,000 square miles affected by the ground-stop order were not just being declared restricted airspace but rather national defense airspace until such time as the military aircraft maneuvers completed the balloon takedown and retrieval for examination.
Once the US Navy has retrieved all of the debris, it will be interesting to find out what they're able to learn from the surveillance balloon, which the Chinese insisted was only a weather balloon. Hopefully, the retrieved pieces can tell us many things, including the type of surveillance that the balloon was designed for that Chinese satellites cannot acquire due to distance. Examining the balloon should tell us information about intent, collection processes, transmission activity, and potentially, about planning implications.
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