Watch an F-22 Finally Shoot Down the Chinese Spy Balloon Off South Carolina Coast

chinese spy balloon flying above charlotte
Chinese Spy Balloon Finally Shot DownAnadolu Agency - Getty Images
  • An F-22 Raptor finally shot down the Chinese spy balloon off the South Carolina coast on Saturday.

  • The Chinese spy balloon, which China claimed was a weather device, had flown over the continental U.S. over the last week, a violation of American airspace.

  • President Joe Biden waited until it was safe to shoot down the balloon, despite critics calling for more immediate action.

The U.S. finally shot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday afternoon. An F-22 Raptor from Langley Air Force Base shot down the spy balloon with one AIM-9X air-to-air missile at 2:39 p.m. ET, marking the end to a bizarre international episode that captured the country’s attention for the past several days.

The U.S. government had been actively tracking the high-altitude Chinese spy balloon, which flew over the continental U.S. from Idaho to the Carolinas over the course of five days. Since the Chinese spy balloon clearly invaded American airspace, President Joe Biden began discussing military options with the Pentagon as early as Tuesday, before it became a real concern among the greater American public, according to the New York Times.

But despite criticism from politicians urging Biden to order fighter jets to immediately shoot down the balloon, especially as it hung high above Montana for a lengthy period of time, Biden vowed not to take action until “the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path,” according to a statement from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Finally, on Saturday morning, Biden told reporters “we’re gonna take care of” the spy balloon. Not long afterward, as the balloon floated off the coast and over the Atlantic Ocean, the Federal Aviation Administration closed the airspace and halted flights at several airports in North and South Carolina in advance of the mission.

At 2:39 p.m., one of two F-22 Raptors flying at an altitude of 58,000 feet fired the AIM-9X missile at the balloon, which was flying between 60,000 and 65,000 feet. By 3 p.m., the fighters returned to Langley after successfully shooting down the balloon, according to a Pentagon official, via the Times.

“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 [People’s Republic of China’s] unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Austin said in the statement.

According to CBS News, “multiple Navy and Coast Guard vessels,” including the USS Carter Hall, are collecting the debris in the vicinity of where the balloon fell, which is reportedly spread out “over a field of about seven miles.”

Earlier this week, before the balloon came down, the Pentagon said the U.S. intelligence community had “very high confidence” that the spy balloon originated in China, and that U.S. officials had engaged with their Chinese counterparts “with urgency, through multiple channels” to resolve the balloon issue.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, issued a statement on the spy balloon days before it was shot down, claiming it was a weather device. China took responsibility for the balloon’s errant path into U.S. airspace, but called it “force majeure”—in diplomatic-speak, an extraordinary, unforeseeable accident:

“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. 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. The Chinese side will continue communicating with the US side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure.”

According to the Times, U.S. officials are closely monitoring China’s reaction to the U.S. government shooting down the spy balloon, and waiting to see if the Chinese military will pursue retaliation.

We will continue to update this story as more information develops.

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