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Chinese balloon: US shoots down balloon off SC coast; Navy, Coast Guard will lead recovery

The U.S. downed a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the South Carolina coast on Saturday afternoon, The Associated Press reported. The action came hours after the balloon, which Pentagon officials called a “surveillance balloon” was spotted over Charlotte, North Carolina, WSOC-TV reported.

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In a video posted to its social media accounts, the Charlotte television station said that the balloon could be seen outside its studios shortly after 10 a.m. EST.

Update 5:54 p.m. EST Feb. 4: U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., complimented the Air Force fighters for carrying out the mission to take down the suspected Chinese spy balloon, according to The State newspaper of Columbia.

“Thank you to the men and women of the United States military who were responsible for completing the mission to shoot down the Chinese surveillance balloon,” Graham said on Twitter. “The Biden Administration did the right thing in bringing it down.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is set to announce a bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Feb. 15, had called on President Joe Biden to shoot down the balloon quickly.

“China would never let a spy balloon fly through their airspace,” Haley tweeted about four hours before the balloon was shot down. “No strong leader would. And now, it’s flying above South Carolina. Capture the balloon. See what they are collecting. Hold Xi accountable.”

Update 5:01 p.m. EST Feb. 4: The Federal Aviation Administration said that flights to and from Myrtle Beach International Airport, Charleston International Airport and Wilmington International Airport are resuming. The ground stops at the airports were put in place for “security reasons,” while the suspected Chinese air balloon was floating through the Carolinas.

Update 4:14 p.m. EST Jan. 4: Personnel from the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard will spearhead the recovery effort to retrieve the debris of the Chinese spy balloon, The New York Times reported. The balloon landed in 47 feet of water, a senior Defense Department official told the newspaper. He added that the area where the balloon hit the surface was “relatively shallow water,” which would make its recovery easier.

Update 3:59 p.m. EST Feb. 4: The Air Force fighter jets that shot down the Chinese balloon took off from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, CNN reported. A senior U.S. military official said the official takedown was at 2:39 p.m. EST.

A single missile was used, the official said. The US military used F-22 aircrafts and fired an AIM-9X missile.

Update 3:36 p.m. EST Feb. 4: President Joe Biden told reporters that the Pentagon did not want any residents injured on the ground when Air Force jets shot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon, The New York Times reported.

“On Wednesday when I was briefed on the balloon, I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down -- on Wednesday -- as soon as possible,” Biden said after arriving at Camp David from Syracuse, New York. “They decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water within our 12-mile limit.

“They successfully took it down and I want to compliment our aviators that did it.”

Update 3:33 p.m. EST Feb. 4: Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin confirmed in a statement that U.S. fighter jets from Northern Command “successfully brought down the high altitude surveillance balloon launched by and belonging to the People’s Republic of China.”

The balloon was brought down just off the coast of South Carolina while it was still in U.S. airspace, Austin said.

Update 3:28 p.m. EST Feb. 4: South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted that he was briefed by the Pentagon about plans to shoot down the Chinese surveillance balloon once it was over the Atlantic Ocean.

“It appears that just happened,” the governor tweeted.

Update 3:25 p.m. EST Feb. 4: President Joe Biden said he gave the order to shoot down the Chinese balloon on Wednesday once it was over the water, The Associated Press reported.

Update 3:23 p.m. EST Feb. 4: Joey Lopes, of Georgetown, South Carolina, told CNN that he was visiting Myrtle Beach on Saturday when he saw the Chinese balloon near the coast.

Lopes told the cable news outlet that he recorded a video eight minutes later after hearing a loud noise in the sky.

Update 3:16 p.m. EST Feb. 4: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed in a statement that the U.S. downed the surveillance balloon. According to The Associated Press, a recovery operation was underway in territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean.

Austin said the president told him that “the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path,” according to The New York Times.

Update 3:09 p.m. EST Feb. 4: The ground stops at Myrtle Beach International Airport, Charleston International Airport and Wilmington International Airport were extended until 5:15 p.m. EST, WBTW-TV reported.

Update 2:46 p.m. EST Feb. 4: The U.S. downed a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast on Saturday afternoon, The Associated Press reported.

An operation was underway in U.S. territorial waters to recover debris from the balloon, which had been flying at about 60,000 feet and was estimated to be about the size of three school buses, the news organization reported.

Television footage showed a small explosion, followed by the balloon falling toward the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, according to the AP.

Note: Video below contains two instances of profanity.

Update 2:23 p.m. EST Feb. 4: The ground stops at Myrtle Beach International Airport, Charleston International Airport and Wilmington International Airport, the airports were extended until 3:30 p.m. EST, WBTW-TV reported.

Update 1:57 p.m. EST Feb. 4: The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop at Myrtle Beach International Airport due to the Chinese balloon drifting toward the Grand Strand, WBTW-TV reported.

The ground stop is in effect until 2:45 p.m. EST and was issued for “security reasons,”, according to the FAA.

The FAA also issued ground stops at Charleston International Airport and Wilmington International Airport, according to the television station.

“The FAA has paused departures to Wilmington (ILM), Myrtle Beach International (MYR) and Charleston International (CHS) airports to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort,” the FAA said in a statement.

Update 1:25 p.m. EST Feb. 4: According to a tweet from the sheriff’s office in York County, South Carolina, the Chinese balloon was reportedly flying over the area at about 11 a.m. EST.

“Don’t try to shoot it!! Your rifle rounds WILL NOT reach it,” the sheriff’s office tweeted. “Be responsible. What goes up will come down, including your bullets.”

Update 1:06 p.m. EST Feb. 4: The Biden administration is considering a plan to take down the Chinese surveillance balloon that has been drifting across the U.S., The Associated Press reported.

The news organization, quoting four officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plan would bring the aircraft down once it is above the Atlantic Ocean.

Update 11:58 a.m. EST Feb. 4: According to WSYR-TV, President Joe Biden, visiting Syracuse, New York, told reporters at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, that “we’ll take care of it,” in response to shouted questions about the Chinese balloon that has been floating over the U.S. this week.

The president’s schedule released Saturday morning said he will visit a “local stop” in Syracuse, the Post-Standard reported. No address was provided. The visit is closed to the media, the newspaper reported.

Biden’s brother-in-law, Michael E. Hunter, died last week in upstate New York, according to the Post-Standard. An Auburn funeral home held calling hours on Friday afternoon.

Original report: On Friday, officials with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Chinese balloon was a “civilian airship” used mainly for meteorological purposes and that it had been blown off course. They added that the balloon had “limited self-steering capability.”

In a statement Saturday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the presence of the Chinese airship in U.S. airspace was “completely an accident,” and was caused by westerly winds that sent the balloon off course, The Washington Post reported.

The agency claimed that “some U.S. politicians and media” are taking advantage of the situation to discredit China, which “firmly opposes this.”

On Friday, a police station in nearby Gastonia asked residents in a now-deleted Facebook post not to take “potshots” at the balloon.

Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder disputed China’s claims during a news conference on Friday.

“The fact is, we know that it’s a surveillance balloon, and I’m not going to be able to be more specific than that,” Ryder said. “We do know that the balloon has violated U.S. airspace and international law, which is unacceptable.”

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