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 12:45 AM ET, Sun February 5, 2023
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1:59 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

FAA halts departures and restricts airspace on Carolina coast for "national security effort"

From CNN's Pete Muntean and Oren Liebermann

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a ground stop for three airports in the Carolinas as a suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts through the area, a spokesperson confirmed in a statement.

The administration also restricted airspace near Myrtle Beach between 12:45 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. ET. for "national defense airspace.”

The affected airports are in Wilmington, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

“The FAA has paused departures to Wilmington (ILM), Myrtle Beach International (MYR) and Charleston International (CHS) airports to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort,” according to the statement from the FAA.

During a ground stop, all aircraft that meet specific criteria must stay on the ground.

The area of the Temporary Flight Restriction near Myrtle Beach is about 140 nautical miles wide, or about 20,000 square miles. This bans all aircraft from the airspace — mostly from the coastline from Charleston to Wilmington and areas to the south and east.

The notice comes as the balloon has been spotted over various parts of the Carolinas Saturday. It is on trajectory to drift off the coast soon, according to a NOAA weather model.

1:38 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Flight-tracking sites show military aircraft along trajectory of Chinese spy balloon

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

Flight-tracking websites that show military aircraft activity show several noteworthy flight profiles off the coast of the Carolinas on Saturday, in line with the expected trajectory of the suspected Chinese spy balloon.

The Pentagon has not confirmed that any of the US military aircraft in the area are related to the balloon.

As of 1 p.m. ET, two Air Force KC-135R refueling tankers were flying off the coast of South Carolina above 20,000 feet, according to ADS-B Exchange and Flight Radar 24. The tankers appear to be in separate holding patterns.

A Coast Guard C-130 Hercules is flying at low level off the coast of North Carolina on Saturday afternoon. Sites such as ADS-B Exchange and Flight Radar 24 show the C-130, which took off from the Coast Guard base at Elizabeth City around 9:15 a.m. ET, flying at approximately 4,000 feet near Wilmington, close to where the balloon is anticipated to cross the east coast and fly over the water.

For context: Fighter jets that may be used to target the balloon would not necessarily appear on flight-tracking websites, so the tankers may be the only publicly visible indication that fighters are in the area.

Fighter jets would have to fly in from bases in the region and may need refueling, especially with the uncertain speed and path of the balloon.

There is other military aircraft activity in the area, but the planes listed above are the most notable given the projected trajectory of the balloon. 

1:13 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

South Carolina police warn residents not to shoot at suspected spy balloon

From CNN’s Dianne Gallagher

The suspected Chinese spy balloon has been spotted in the skies over York County, South Carolina, after crossing over state lines from North Carolina, the York County Sheriff’s Office said in a verified tweet.

“It’s flying at 60,000 + feet. Don’t try to shoot it!! Your rifle rounds WILL NOT reach it,” the sheriff's office told residents in the post.

See the tweet:

2:05 p.m. ET, February 4, 2023

White balloon similar to the one seen flying across US has been spotted over Latin America this week

From CNN's Jonny Hallam, Sharif Paget and Caroll Alvarado 

An airborne vehicle similar to the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon seen flying over the United States has been spotted in at least two Latin American countries this week. 

CNN is aware of at least half a dozen eyewitnesses in Latin America who have reported seeing the white balloon, sharing video and images on social media of its flight over Costa Rica and Colombia. CNN is unable to confirm if the images show a Chinese surveillance balloon.

Colombian media are reporting sightings of a balloon flying at about 70,000 feet over the South American country’s airspace, citing the Colombian military.

There have also been reports that there was a balloon seen flying over Costa Rica, which could be the same one as seen in Colombia.

Neither the Colombian government nor Costa Rica have issued any confirmation or official statement so far regarding any sightings. 

On Friday evening, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said that "we are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon," without specifying the balloon's exact location

Esteban Carranza, a lawyer from Costa Rica, posted a video of the balloon on Twitter Thursday, saying that "the same type of balloon spotted in the US was visible all day in the Costa Rican sky." 

Carranza told CNN that he filmed the white balloon flying above the Costa Rican capital of San José. CNN geolocated the video to Escazú Village, a shopping mall at San José.

"I have to say, I was pretty excited as I initially thought I was seeing a UFO because the object was big, bright and absolutely still," he said.

"I looked at the object for around 45 minutes from different locations, completely still, and a few hours later went back out again and it was still there, in the exact same place. Lots of people were looking at it from different parts of the city. Even though not a UFO, it was still very unusual and therefore an exciting experience," he added. 

The object was also spotted above Colombia near the city of Valledupar, according to video shared with CNN.

Luis Armando Toloza Calvo shot the video on Friday at 12:13 p.m. ET using his cell phone and a telescope.

Initially, a white dot is seen floating in the sky before Calvo directs his cell phone lens to his telescope to get a better view of the object.  

11:51 a.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Biden says administration will "take care of" suspected spy balloon

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden speaks on Friday, February 3, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
President Joe Biden speaks on Friday, February 3, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden said his administration will handle a suspected Chinese spy balloon traversing the eastern United States. 

“We're gonna take care of it,” Biden said, when questioned by CNN’s Sam Fossum on whether he would shoot down the balloon. 

Biden has been discussing options with military brass since first being briefed on the balloon Tuesday. His advisers warned against shooting it down over land because debris could land on people or homes.

Biden was speaking at an airfield in Syracuse, New York, where he is visiting family. 

11:45 a.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Meteorology student describes spotting balloon over North Carolina

Evan Fisher, a meteorology major at UNC Asheville, saw the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon drift near the western North Carolina city this morning.

"We were expecting it to move over the western North Carolina area between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., but then to our surprise, it didn't show up until after sunrise, so I spotted it around 8:50 (a.m. ET) this morning, in the southern skies of the south of Asheville," he told CNN.

The balloon was "much larger than I expected it to be," he added.

Listen to more of the interview here:  

11:38 a.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Has this sort of thing happened before? Here's a look at China’s history of spying in the US

From CNN's Zachary Cohen

While the suspected Chinese spy balloon floating over the continental United States is dominating current headlines, Beijing and Washington have a long history of spying on each other.

The US has used its own surveillance methods in China, including flying aircraft over disputed islands claimed by Beijing, using human sources and monitoring signal intercepts.

American officials have sought to distinguish US actions from what they say is more brazen spying carried out by China's government. But Chinese officials say a similar thing – repeatedly accusing the US of espionage.

Here’s what we know about Chinese spy efforts:

  • Balloons and satellites: A US official said Friday that there have been several other spy balloons spotted over Hawaii and Guam in recent years. But it's not clear why China would want to use a balloon rather than a satellite to gather information. Modern satellite technology has enabled the gathering of overflight intelligence data from space, and Beijing already uses that technology to monitor the US, according to the Pentagon.
  • Cell towers: Some cellphone towers around the US still use Chinese technology that security experts have warned could be handing China intelligence. The towers could also potentially allow Beijing to mount network attacks. The tech is shunned by major US wireless carriers and the federal government, but widely deployed by a number of smaller wireless carriers. In some cases, those cell networks provide coverage to rural areas near US military bases, CNN previously reported.
  • Land purchases: Federal officials have also investigated Chinese land purchases near critical infrastructure. Since 2017, the US has shut down a regional consulate believed to be a hotbed of Chinese spies and also stonewalled what it saw as efforts to plant listening devices near sensitive facilities. The US also nixed plans for Beijing to build an ornate Chinese garden at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. Intelligence officials warned it would have been a perfect place to conduct surveillance near the US Capitol.
  • Students, business people and scientists: CNN has also reported that Beijing has used expatriate Chinese scientists, businesspeople and even students as spies in the US, according to current and former US intelligence officials. There have been a number of high-profile arrests in cases of this kind.

Read more on the history of US-China spying here.

11:45 a.m. ET, February 4, 2023

The suspected surveillance balloon is now above Charlotte, CNN affiliate shows

From CNN’s Keith Allen and Colin Jeffery

The suspected Chinese spy balloon appears above Charlotte.
The suspected Chinese spy balloon appears above Charlotte. (WSOC)

The suspected Chinese spy balloon appears to be drifting further eastward in North Carolina and is now over Charlotte, according to aerial footage from CNN affiliate WSOC.

CNN has reached out to the Charlotte mayor’s office Saturday morning.

10:12 a.m. ET, February 4, 2023

Video shows suspected spy balloon over North Carolina

From CNN's Caroll Alvarado

The suspected Chinese spy balloon was spotted in the sky over Asheville, North Carolina, Saturday morning, according to video shared with CNN from Twitter.

The video was captured on Saturday morning at 8:40 a.m. ET, Asheville-area resident Kim Hixson told CNN.

CNN has reached out to both the Asheville mayor’s office and North Carolina governor’s office Saturday morning regarding the sighting.