Update (3 p.m. Saturday): According to reports, the spy balloon that gripped Amerixa with its dayslong saga was shot down off the South Carolina coast near Myrtle Beach.
The U.S. military shot down the Chinese unmanned craft after the Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for airports in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Charleston and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, CNN reported.
The FAA also restricted airspace near Myrtle Beach “to support the Defense Department in a national security effort.”
Earlier in the day, President Joe Biden had pledged “we’re gonna take care of this” following harsh criticism and mockery for his inaction.
Original story below:
(Headline USA) The Chinese balloon drifting high above the U.S. and first revealed over Montana has created a buzz down below among residents who initially wondered what it was — and now wonder what its arrival means amid a chorus of alarm raised by elected officials.
Conservatives took to Twitter, alternately expressing outrage and bemusement at the situation, along with an overarching desire to shoot it down.
Chinese Spy Balloon. pic.twitter.com/C8NqSKUhhV
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) February 3, 2023
The episode called to mind the October 2009 news cycle surrounding “Balloon Boy,” when a nervous nation was captivated briefly when a Colorado family reported that their 6-year-old son was trapped in a homemade helium balloon. The event later proved to be a hoax.
But not all were in on the fun on Friday. The Biden administration drew sharp criticism for its failure to act as the object made its way across the U.S., spending time over Rush Limbaugh’s boyhood home in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, before continuing southward, where some said it may have been destined for a sensitive missile site in Georgia.
The balloon roiled diplomatic tensions as it continued to move over the central U.S. on Friday at 60,000 feet. Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly canceled an upcoming trip to China.
Curiosity about the bobbling sky orb that’s the size of three school buses swept the nation and the internet, with search terms like “where is the spy balloon now?” and “spy balloon tracker” surging on Google. There is no such tracker just yet, but a couple St. Louis TV stations offered grainy live feeds of the balloon.
Internet users posted wobbly videos and photos of white splotches in comments sections and speculative feeds. And online storm chasers, more accustomed to tracking raging systems and funnel clouds, offered updates on the balloon’s path through cloudless skies.
It crossed into U.S. airspace over Alaska early this week, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic.
In Montana—home to Malmstrom Air Force base and dozens of nuclear missile silos — people doubted Beijing’s claim that it was a weather balloon gone off course. And the governor and members of Congress pressed the Biden administration over why the military did not immediately bring it down from the sky.
“I question whether or not we would even found out about this if people hadn’t spotted it in Billings,” said Chase Doak, a resident of the southern Montana city who appears to have captured some of the first known video footage and photographs of the balloon.
A white balloon with what appeared to be a solar array hanging beneath it was seen over Billings Wednesday afternoon, around the same time the local airport was temporarily shut down and a day before the Pentagon said it was tracking a Chinese spy balloon over the state.
Initial speculation over its origins ranged from the foreign to the extra-terrestrial.
When Todd Hewett’s 10-year-old son saw it over Billings he thought it was a comet. Hewett got some shaky footage, using a cellphone to take video through a telescope, and was skeptical of the Chinese claim it was a civilian balloon.
“Shoot it down,” he said. “If we could somehow pierce the bottom of it to allow some of the gas to escape to allow for a more controlled descent (that) would be nice .. but if we can’t do that … blow it up.”
Montana has some experience with balloons launched by adversaries: Japan in World War II targeted the western U.S. with incendiary “balloon bombs” that were floated over North America with plans to harm people and start forest fires. More than 30 of the bombs made of rice paper landed in Montana, according to the Montana Historical Society.
In Oregon, five children and a pregnant woman on a church picnic were killed in 1945 when they found one of the bombs and it exploded.
On Friday in Kansas City, Missouri, the National Weather Service said it received reports of a large balloon in the Kansas City metro area and posted two images of white orbs taken from the weather station office in Pleasant Hill, Missouri. The service confirmed it was not a National Weather Service balloon.
A graphic generated by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration online tool was eagerly shared on Facebook, showing the balloon’s trajectory sweep into the U.S. South. Local National Weather Service offices were asked on Twitter whether the balloon was theirs. No, was their answer.
Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said he would hold a hearing to get answers from the Biden administration. He called China’s actions “a clear threat.”
Rep. Ryan Zinke sent a poll to constituents early Friday saying the balloon was still over the state and asking if should be shot down. When the Pentagon said the balloon had since drifted over the central U.S., Zinke raised the possibility China had more than one balloon over the U.S..
“I don’t know if that’s the only balloon. We’ve asked for those answers,” he told The Associated Press. He said the balloon should have been shot down. “The message that it gives to our allies is, we’re not capable of dealing with a balloon,” he said.
The Pentagon late Friday acknowledged reports of a second balloon flying over Latin America but officials did not specify where it was spotted.
Republicans in Montana have grown increasingly outspoken in recent years about China posing a threat to U.S. national security.
A bill pending before the state Legislature would ban “foreign adversaries” from owning, leasing or renting critical infrastructure or farmland. The measure’s sponsor singled out China as being interested in acquiring U.S. lands and resources to “help them with spying efforts.”
US Sen. Steve Daines on Friday rejected the Pentagon’s contention that it was too dangerous to bring the balloon down over Montana. He told reporters there would have been “no better place” than his sparsely populated home state.
“You’ve got higher odds of hitting a cow or a prairie dog or an antelope than you would of hitting any kind of a structure or a person,” he said.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press