US Air Force shoot down suspected Chinese spy balloon
We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you've consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info
A suspected Chinese spy balloon was brought down over the US on Saturday sparking protest from Beijing. Fighter jets shot the suspected Chinese spy balloon out of the sky over the tourist hub of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as onlookers cheered on. Beijing slammed the decision claiming the US was "seriously violating international practice".
The balloon was first noticed by the public hovering over Billings, Montana. However, the balloon first entered US airspace over the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, crossing the state and Canada before entering the contiguous US.
Shortly after the balloon was shot down the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing its "strong dissatisfaction and protest against the US’s use of force to attack a civilian unmanned aircraft."
"The Chinese side has repeatedly informed the US side after verification that the airship is for civilian use and entered the US due to force majeure - it was completely an accident," the Foreign Ministry said, continuing to blame the weather for the suspected spy balloon's route.
It continued: "China will resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of relevant companies, while reserving the right to make further necessary reaction."
Cold war fears: China issues ominous threat to US after spy balloon shot down (Image: AP/Getty Images)
However, US officials have pushed back against Beijing's claims that the balloon was for civilian use, saying they were "confident" that the balloon was being used to spy on sensitive military sites.
The balloon was struck by a missile from an F-22 fighter just off Myrtle Beach, fascinating sky-watchers across a populous area known as the Grand Strand for its miles of beaches that draw retirees and vacationers.
Crowds gathered in neighbourhoods, hotel parking lots and beaches to watch the balloon hover, with some cheering just after it went down.
"Members of the US Military are coordinating to collect debris; however, fragments may make it to the coastline," the Horry County Police Department said in a statement.
When the balloon began crossing the water, Mark Doss, 54, drove a golf cart three blocks down from his home to Garden City Beach. There, Doss said he and his two teenage children spent 90 minutes watching the balloon strike and waiting in vain for debris to wash ashore.
The sheer size of the white orb awed Doss, who said the approaching fighter jet looked like a little model airplane. Doss recalled a “white puff of smoke” after the missile struck the balloon.
"That one jet made a beeline straight to it - wham!" Doss said.
Ashlyn Preaux, 33, went out to get her mail in Forestbrook, South Carolina, just inland of Myrtle Beach when she saw her neighbours gathered outside. Curious, she went to see what they were looking at.
It was easy to spot the balloon in the cloudless blue sky and then what appeared to be fighter jets circling overhead as well. After the strike, she could see the balloon start to fall apart and fall from the sky.
"I did not anticipate waking up to be in a Top Gun movie today," she said.
READ MORE: US town evacuated as 50-car train accident sparks huge fire
The apparent spy balloon sparked criticism of the Biden Administration with prominent Republicans calling for the device to be shot down, including Joe Biden's most likely presidential challenger, Donald Trump.
"SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON," Trump posted on his Truth Social website.
Others echoed Trump's call to destroy the balloon. One of Montana's two Congressmen, Republican Ryan Zinke, said it should be shot down.
"Shoot. It. Down. The Chinese spy balloon is clear provocation. In Montana we do not bow. We shoot it down. Take the shot," he said in a tweet.
Idaho murder victim put up 'fierce fight' against Idaho killer [REPORT]
Boy, 6, orders $1,000 worth of food on dad's phone (and tips 25%) [INSIGHT]
Prince Harry 'can't be trusted at all' as William fears Sussex 'stunt' [ANALYSIS]
Joe Biden he had authorised the shooting down of the airship on Wednesday, however the Pentagon recommended waiting until it was over open water to minimise the risk of falling debris endangering the public.
"They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it," Biden said.
More to follow...