The United States on Saturday shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had made its way across much of the continental U.S.
"At the direction of President Biden, U.S. fighter aircraft...successfully brought down the high-altitude surveillance balloon launched by and belonging to the People's Republic of China (PRC) over the water off the coast of South Carolina," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
The Pentagon first detected the Chinese balloon flying over Montana last week. The balloon was seen at an altitude of 60,000 feet – significantly higher than most commercial airliners fly.
After being spotted in Montana, the balloon made its way east and was seen Friday evening hovering over Kansas and Missouri before continuing across the Carolinas and heading out over the ocean. What exactly the balloon was doing is still unknown, but The Associated Press noted it had "loitered over sensitive areas of Montana where nuclear warheads are siloed, leading the military to take actions to prevent it from collecting intelligence."
China continually insisted that the balloon was not a spy gadget, and was simply a meteorological device that had gone off course. However, the backlash from the U.S. was swift, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned trip to China as a result.
News of the balloon's demise came after another balloon was seen flying throughout territories in Latin and South America. Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder later confirmed to Politico that the Defense Department was "seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon."
Politico noted that it was "possible, though unconfirmed, that other balloons were launched elsewhere around the world but not spotted."
Updated Feb. 4, 2023: This story has been updated to reflect new developments.