(CMR) The U.S. military reportedly shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday afternoon.
“On Wednesday, President Biden gave his authorization to take down the surveillance balloon as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon's path,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
Austin said military commanders “had determined downing the balloon while over land posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload.”
President Joe Biden said he gave the order on Wednesday, but officials told him to wait until it was safe to down it.
“They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it,” Biden added.
The downing came shortly after the Federal Aviation Administration said it had “paused departures from and arrivals to” three East Coast airports — in Wilmington, N.C., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Charleston, S.C. — “to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort.” Flights through these airports resumed shortly after 3 p.m.
An operation was reportedly underway to recover debris from the Atlantic Ocean.
According to NPR, U.S. and Chinese officials have given conflicting information on the balloon's purpose. The Chinese government said the balloon is strictly used for meteorological research and accidentally went adrift into U.S. airspace.