As of Saturday, the giant white balloon that U.S. authorities claimed was sent over by China to spy on the country is no more.
Amid growing calls to shoot down the alleged spy balloon, the U.S. military did just that and used Air Force fighter jets to dispose of it while it traveled 60,000 feet (18,288 meters) off the Carolina coastline, the Associated Press reported. Videos of the takedown posted on social media show two fighter jets heading towards the balloon in the sky followed by an explosion and a trail of smoke. Bits of debris can also be seen.
“Holy shit,” said Ashlyn Preaux, a former state Democratic candidate in South Carolina who took a video of the takedown from her house in Myrtle Beach.
According to the AP, ships and military jets were deployed in the area afterwards to recover the balloon’s debris. Officials’ goal was to recover as much of the debris as possible before it sank into the ocean. The balloon had been estimated to be the roughly the size of three school buses.
After the balloon was shot down, President Joe Biden told reporters on Saturday that he had originally told the Pentagon to shoot the balloon down on Wednesday, but was told it would be best to wait “for the safest place to do it.” The president’s brief statement appeared to be a pointed jab at Republicans, some of whom were incensed with rage upon learning about the balloon and blasted Biden for not shooting it down immediately.
“Biden should shoot down the Chinese spy balloon immediately. President Trump would have never tolerated this. President Trump would have never tolerated many things happening to America,” Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted on Thursday.
Former President Donald Trump chimed in as well, posting in his typical all caps style on Truth Social: “SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!”
China denied the giant balloon was a spy on Friday, sheepishly and unconvincingly saying that it was a “civilian airship” to study meteorology that veered way, way off course. It only happened to end up in Montana, home to one of the nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields, because of the wind and its limited steering capabilities, according to China. U.S. officials are steadfast in their assessment that the balloon was indeed a spy.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry apologized for the balloon’s intrusion on Friday.
“The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into U.S. airspace due to force majeure,” the ministry said in a statement.
That regret is probably not enough to contain the political storm the country’s balloon has unleashed, though. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled his trip to Beijing over the alleged spy balloon. Blinken said he told Chinese diplomat Wang Yi that sending the balloon to the U.S. was “an irresponsible act and that (China’s) decision to take this action on the eve of my visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have.”
As wacky as it sounds, this may not be the last time you hear about alleged Chinese spy balloons. The Pentagon said there was second spy balloon flying over Latin America but didn’t offer up additional details.