February 4, 2023 US shoots down Chinese spy balloon off East Coast

By Kathleen Magramo, Andrew Raine, Matt Meyer, Adrienne Vogt and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 0545 GMT (1345 HKT) February 5, 2023
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5:35 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Chinese balloon wreckage will be taken to Virginia FBI lab for analysis

From CNN's Evan Perez

Remains from the suspected Chinese spy balloon will be taken to an FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis by FBI experts and intelligence agencies, according to two people briefed on the matter.  

Earlier this afternoon, a senior defense official said the Defense Department has launched a collaborative effort with the FBI and counterintelligence authorities to assist with “categorizing and assessing the platform itself.”

5:16 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Witness in Myrtle Beach details moment the balloon was shot down

From CNN’s Andy Rose

A still from Joey Lopes' video of the balloon being shot down Saturday, February 4.
A still from Joey Lopes' video of the balloon being shot down Saturday, February 4. (Joey Lopes)

A witness who captured video of the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon being shot down said he happened to see it as he was enjoying a Saturday in Myrtle Beach.

“We were at lunch, and we were kind of, like, joking around. Like, 'What if we see it? What if it's right here?'” said Joey Lopes, a social studies teacher from the nearby coastal city of Georgetown, South Carolina.

Lopes told CNN’s Jim Acosta Saturday afternoon that he decided to pull his phone out and began recording the scene in the sky just before a missile took the balloon out.

“We saw the fighter jets circling around. There were about three or four of them,” said Lopes. “And then after that, we heard a bang, and the balloon was gone.”

Lopes added he was concerned about the possibility of debris falling if the balloon was shot over land, but was glad that the military waited until it was out to sea.

“I've seen a lot of crazy stuff in Myrtle Beach over the last three years. This is by far the craziest,” Lopes said.

4:24 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

US Navy and Coast Guard vessels are securing the area near downed spy balloon, official says

From CNN's Jamie Crawford and Aaron Pellish

Multiple US Navy and Coast Guard vessels are in the area where the suspected Chinese spy balloon went down and are securing a perimeter, according to a senior US military official said.

The official told CNN that the Navy had anticipated having to recover debris in deeper water, but it landed at a depth of about 47 feet, which "will make it fairly easy."

The official said "capable Navy divers" will go down as needed into the water to assist in the operation. There are also “unmanned vessels that can go down to get the structure and lift it back up on the recovery ship,” the official added.

The official did not know how long it would take crews to recover any salvageable equipment from the downed aircraft but noted that recovery could take "a relatively short time."

"I don't anticipate months and weeks," the official said.

4:04 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Chinese government was using balloon to "surveil strategic sites" in the US, according to defense secretary

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the balloon shot down by the US over the Atlantic Ocean Saturday was being used by the Chinese government "to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States."

President Joe Biden gave the Pentagon authorization on Wednesday 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," Austin said in a statement after the military downed the aircraft Saturday.

"The Department of Defense developed options to take down the balloon safely over our territorial waters, while closely monitoring its path and intelligence collection activities," Austin continued, adding that military leaders coordinated with the Canadian government on the mission.

"Today’s deliberate and lawful action demonstrates that President Biden and his national security team will always put the safety and security of the American people first while responding effectively to the (People's Republic of China)’s unacceptable violation of our sovereignty," Austin said.

4:38 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

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

President Joe Biden speaks to reporters after arriving at Hagerstown Regional Airport in Hagerstown, Maryland, on February 4.
President Joe Biden speaks to reporters after arriving at Hagerstown Regional Airport in Hagerstown, Maryland, on February 4. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

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.'”

Watch here:

CNN's Nikki Carvajal contributed reporting to this post.

4:17 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

US fighter jets shot down spy balloon with a single missile, senior official says

From Oren Liebermann

The suspected Chinese spy balloon falls to the ocean after being shot down Saturday, February 4.
The suspected Chinese spy balloon falls to the ocean after being shot down Saturday, February 4. (Randall Hill/Reuters)

The US military used fighter jets from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to take down the suspected Chinese spy balloon at 2:39 p.m. ET on Saturday, according to a senior US military official.

A single missile was used, the official said. The US military used F-22 aircrafts and fired an AIM-9X missile.

3:42 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

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."

3:33 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

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.

3:25 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

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.