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US shoots down Chinese spy balloon off East Coast

8 min ago

Senate majority leader condemns China’s “brazen incursion into American airspace”

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized the Chinese leader for the suspected spy balloon that was taken down after crossing the continental United States.

“I strongly condemn President Xi’s brazen incursion into American airspace and I commend President Biden’s leadership in taking down the Chinese balloon over water to ensure safety for all Americans," Schumer said in a statement Saturday. "Now we can collect the equipment and analyze the technology used by the Chinese Communist Party.”

The US has rejected China's claims that the balloon entered US airspace by accident, calling it a "civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes."

24 min ago

Biden says he wanted balloon shot down "as soon as possible"

The suspected Chinese spy balloon falls to the ground, seen from Holden Beach on Saturday, February 4.
The suspected Chinese spy balloon falls to the ground, seen from Holden Beach on Saturday, February 4. (Allison Joyce/Reuters)

President Joe Biden said the mission to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the East Coast Saturday was successful, and that he had ordered the Pentagon to knock the aircraft out of the sky as soon as it was safe to do so.

"On Wednesday when I was briefed on the balloon, I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down —  on Wednesday — as soon as possible," the president told reporters in Hagerstown, Maryland.

"They decided, without doing damage to anyone on the ground, they decided that the best time to do that was as it got over water ... within a 12-mile limit. They successfully took it down and I want to compliment our aviators who did it," the president added.

Asked if that was a recommendation from his national security team, Biden reiterated: “I told them to shoot it down. They said to me, 'Let’s wait for the safest place to do it.'” 

CNN's Nikki Carvajal contributed reporting to this post.

17 min ago

Blinken says he warned China that US would take any action "deemed appropriate to protect our interests"

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “made clear" in his conversation with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi on Friday morning that the US "reserved the right to take whatever action we deemed appropriate to protect our interests," a US senior administration official told CNN Saturday.

The official was responding to a question about whether the US government informed the Chinese government before downing the surveillance balloon. 

US military officials shot down the suspected spy balloon off the East Coast Saturday afternoon, over the Atlantic Ocean near the Carolinas.

25 min ago

FAA cancels ground stop and reopens airspace in the Carolinas

From CNN's Pete Muntean

After extending a ground stop at three airports in North and South Carolina, the Federal Aviation Administration said it has reopened airspace in the area.

The stop was lifted shortly after the US military took down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean.

“Flights to and from Wilmington (ILM), Myrtle Beach International (MYR) and Charleston International (CHS) airports are resuming. Other airspace has been reopened. Normal operations resuming,” the FAA said in a statement.

1 min ago

Watch: Videos show balloon shot down over the Atlantic Ocean

From CNN's Keith Allen and Justin Lear

Twitter user Devon Pace captured video of the takedown of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of the Carolinas.

A US official told CNN that the military shot down the balloon.

Georgetown, South Carolina, resident Joey Lopes told CNN he was visiting Myrtle Beach for the day when he looked up in the sky around 2:30 p.m. ET and saw the balloon near the coast.

Lopes said he recorded video at 2:38 p.m. ET after he heard a loud bang in the sky. His video shows the balloon moments after it started to fall from the sky. The contrails of two jets can be seen near the balloon.

Lopes said he also heard a bang about one minute after he first saw the balloon had been shot.

35 min ago

Eyewitness describes the moment US military shot down spy balloon

This still from Travis Huffstetler's video shows the balloon falling to the Earth.
This still from Travis Huffstetler's video shows the balloon falling to the Earth. (Travis Huffstetler)

Travis Huffstetler, a local photographer in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, said he witnessed the US military shoot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon Saturday afternoon.

Huffstetler watched the incident from the 15th floor of a hotel. He recalled seeing multiple aircraft flying around the balloon for about 20 to 30 minutes, before he saw what appeared to be a missile come from an airplane that struck the balloon down.

"The balloon basically, like, popped, you know? Like you would see a normal balloon kind of pop," he told CNN's Fredericka Whitfield on Saturday. "Now it's still drifting and floating down as we speak."

"It was super visible here from the beach," he added.

According to Huffstetler, beach access points and streets were packed with people who had their cameras pointed up to the sky. 

Huffstetler said he captured photos right as the balloon was pierced and began to disintegrate. 

CNN’s Hannah Sarisohn contributed to this post.

50 min ago

Recovery efforts are underway off coast near location where balloon was taken down, US official says

From CNN's Phil Mattingly

Recovery efforts are underway off the coast of the Carolinas where the suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down by the US military, a US official said Saturday.

The specific method of taking down the balloon is still unclear, but the order was given by President Joe Biden and was presented and supported by military leadership, according to the official.

The key was getting the balloon over the ocean, the official said.

The Federal Aviation Administration's ground stop has been extended until 5:15 p.m. ET for three airports in the Carolinas after an official says the US shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon.

The affected airports are in Wilmington, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The original ground stop was from 12:45 p.m. ET to 2:45 p.m. ET for "national defense airspace,” and then it was extended to 3:15 p.m. ET.

During a ground stop, all aircraft that meet specific criteria must stay on the ground.

50 min ago

US military has shot down the Chinese spy balloon off the East Coast, US official says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak, Zachary Cohen and Oren Liebermann

The US military has downed the suspected Chinese spy balloon over the Atlantic Ocean, a US official says. 

President Joe Biden approved shooting down the balloon, the same US official told CNN.

Navy assets and Coast Guard assets are on standby if required for any possible recovery efforts, a defense official told CNN prior to the balloon being shot down.

The balloon was first spotted in the sky over Montana earlier this week and traveled across the middle of the country, following weather patterns before it exited the continental United States on Saturday.

Prior to the balloon being shot down, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for airports in Wilmington, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The FAA also restricted airspace near Myrtle Beach “to support the Defense Department in a national security effort.”

Top military officials had advised against shooting down the balloon while over the continental US because of the risk the debris could pose to civilians and property on the ground, but officials had maintained that all options remained on the table.  

Earlier Saturday, Biden had told reporters in Syracuse, New York, that his administration was “gonna take care” of the balloon when asked by CNN if the US would shoot it down. He had been discussing options with military brass since first being briefed on the balloon Tuesday.

On Friday, the Pentagon said the balloon did not pose a military or political threat.

China's Foreign Ministry has said the balloon entered US airspace by accident. But the State Department has said the presence of the balloon over US territory was "a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this has occurred."

The discovery of the balloon prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone his highly anticipated diplomatic visit to China, saying the incident "created the conditions that undermine the purpose of the trip."

CNN's Pete Muntean contributed reporting to this post.