The US has shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that had been flying over its airspace.

Television footage showed a small explosion, followed by the balloon descending toward the water off the Carolina coast.

The balloon was shot down with a missile fired by an F-22 fighter aircraft, about six nautical miles off the coast near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Pentagon officials said.

Ships were deployed in the water to mount the recovery operation.

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‘They successfully took it down’

US President Joe Biden said he wanted the balloon brought down on Wednesday but was advised that the best time for the operation would be when it was over water.

“They successfully took it down and I want to complement our aviators who did it,” Mr Biden said.

A US defence official said the aircraft was a spy balloon and that China intended to use it on sensitive military sites.

Read more:
What are ‘spy balloons’ and what is their role?
The puzzling theories behind China’s ‘spy balloon’

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The movement of Chinese ‘spy’ balloon

However, China insisted the balloon was used for meteorological and other scientific research and had been blown off course.

The object is believed to have flown over the Aleutian Islands, off the coast of Alaska, and through Canada before entering the US earlier this week.

In a statement on Sunday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called the shooting an “obvious overreaction” that “seriously violated international conventions”.

“China will resolutely uphold the relevant company’s legitimate rights and interests, and at the same time reserving the right to take further actions in response,” it added.

How did the US bring down the ‘spy balloon’?

The balloon was shot down at 2:39pm local time by a military fighter jet from Langley in Virginia.

The fighter jet shot a single missile into the balloon, which caused it to crash into the ocean.

“This was the first opportunity to successfully bring down the balloon without posing a threat to civilians”, a senior US official said.

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Biden comments on Chinese ‘spy balloon’

Officials said they were “confident” the balloon was “seeking to monitor sensitive sights” and they will “seek to recover it”.

The balloon was flying between 60,000 to 65,000ft.

The debris was spread out over seven miles, US officials said.

Flights suspended

Mr Biden had warned the US was “going to take care of” the craft after it was spotted again on Saturday – this time over North Carolina.

The US had previously hesitated to shoot the balloon because of the risks to people on the ground from falling debris.

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Moment pilots spot Chinese spy balloon

Ahead of the operation, flights were halted at three airports including Myrtle Beach International Airport in South Carolina because of a “national security effort”, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The discovery of the balloon has stirred tensions and a diplomatic row between China and the US.

It prompted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to abruptly cancel a trip to Beijing.