Weather radar detects downing of Chinese surveillance balloon off South Carolina coast

The FAA restricted airspace over the western Atlantic and paused operations in Wilmington, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach International and Charleston International at the request of the Department of Defense.

Weather radar primarily tasked with detecting precipitation over the eastern Carolinas picked up odd returns Saturday afternoon that meteorologists believe was likely debris associated with the takedown of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command said it tracked the craft for days when it entered the continent over Alaska, maneuvered through Canada and ended up over the United States but did not attempt efforts to stop the balloon due to risks of debris hitting the ground.

The public got its first glance of the alleged spycraft Thursday after photos and video from Montana went viral, with residents wondering who was behind the flying object.

The People’s Republic of China confirmed the balloon belonged to the Asian country and contend it was blown off course during a research and weather-related mission.

U.S. military officials cast doubt on Chinese claims and said all indications point to the massive balloon being a surveillance craft.


President Joe Biden gave the order to shoot down the airship on Wednesday, but the directive was not made public until after the balloon was spotted being shot down by a U.S. fighter jet off of Myrtle Beach on Saturday afternoon.

"On Wednesday, I was briefed on the balloon. I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday, as soon as possible. They decided without doing damage to anyone on the ground. They decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water within the 12-mile limit. They successfully took it down. And I want to compliment our aviators who did it," Biden said during a press gaggle in Syracuse, New York.

A ridge of high-pressure building over the Southeast U.S. caused clear skies, which meant beachgoers along the Grand Strand had a clear vantage point of the military operation.

Several people took videos of planes off the coast that included U.S. fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft.

Minutes after the balloon was safely offshore, the airship appeared to be struck by a projectile and started to fall harmlessly over the ocean.


Around the same time, a land-based National Weather Service radar captured returns that resembled rain, but because of how dry the atmosphere was, meteorologists said what was likely picked up on by radar beams was debris raining down as if it was some sort of precipitation.

The returns on doppler radar didn’t last long, and it is unknown how much debris remained intact as it fell over the western Atlantic.

Military officials were expected to try to recover as much of the airship as possible, and President Biden said his administration would have more to report on the incident at a future date.