A Chinese spy balloon that's been drifting through U.S. airspace for days was shot down off the Carolina coast Saturday afternoon, President Joe Biden said.
The balloon had spent five days floating from Idaho to the Carolinas, sparking a diplomatic incident between the U.S. and China and a huge political debate in which many Republicans criticized Biden for not downing it quickly – with some encouraging civilians to shoot it down themselves.
Biden's administration decided to leave it in flight until it was over water to minimize risk of debris plummeting to the ground.
The balloon was downed by the U.S. military shortly after the Federal Aviation Administration announced it had "paused departures from and arrivals to" airports in the area "to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort." On Saturday afternoon, the Federal Aviation Administration had issued flight alerts, known as "notice to air missions" or NOTAMs, warning aviators of flight restrictions around Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The Associated Press reported an operation was underway to recover the debris from the ocean.
Some on social media posted videos apparently showing the craft falling from the sky.
The Chinese government had claimed that the balloon was used for weather research and had drifted off course into U.S. airspace, but the Pentagon said it was a surveillance device.
Biden had said earlier Saturday that "we're going to take of it."
Later, upon landing in Hagerstown, Md., after a brief trip to Syracuse, N.Y., Biden told reporters that he "ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible.”
He said the Pentagon didn’t want to do damage to anyone on the ground, according to a White House press pool report.
“They decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water," Biden said. “They successfully took it down and I want to compliment our aviators that did it."
First lady Jill Biden also offered thoughts on the Chinese balloon Saturday afternoon while visiting a military family clinic in San Diego.
"We're more aware of the military when we're in times of war, but now we're in times of peace," she said. "And, just like this morning, if any of you were watching the TV, where they were following the, you know, the balloon from China, and we saw the effort that our military did. I mean, I felt such a sense of pride about the effort and that our military, you know, shot down the balloon, how coordinated it was, how thoughtful it was, that it was decided to wait until it was over water so that civilians weren't affected."