US fighter jets shot down the Chinese observation balloon that has been sighted since Thursday. A video shows the moment the balloon is hit and bursts.

A US fighter jet shot down the suspected spy balloon from China off the coast of the state of South Carolina. The “security of the American people” is the top priority, said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Saturday and at the same time denounced “the unacceptable violation of our sovereignty by the People’s Republic of China”. US President Joe Biden praised the “successful” mission. Videos on social media show the moment the balloon hit and crashed.

He instructed the Pentagon on Wednesday to shoot down the balloon as soon as possible, Biden said in Maryland. Because of the danger of falling parts, those responsible decided to do this over water.

Before the shooting, the FAA said three airports in the southeastern United States had been temporarily closed “to assist the Department of Defense with a national security measure.” Accordingly, take-offs and landings at Wilmington, Myrtle Beach and Charleston airports in the states of South Carolina and North Carolina were interrupted.

The overflight of the balloon the size of three buses became public on Thursday. “The balloon’s objective is clearly espionage and its current path is through sensitive bases,” a Pentagon official said. At this point, the balloon was over the state of Montana, which includes Air Force bases and underground nuclear missile sites. He later flew on towards the east.

China insisted it was a “civilian” balloon, particularly for “meteorological purposes,” which accidentally flew into US airspace. The State Department in Beijing said “some politicians and media in the United States” used the incident “as an excuse to attack and slander China.” China has “never” violated another country’s territory or airspace.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a visit to China planned for Sunday and Monday because of the incident. A second such balloon had appeared over Latin America on Friday, according to the Pentagon.

“The balloon is down,” several US journalists wrote on Twitter on Saturday evening. According to US journalist Jennifer Griffin, an F22 fighter jet fired an A9X rocket at the balloon at an altitude of 58,000 feet (equivalent to 17,000 meters). This flew around 1000 meters higher than the jet.

China has protested the downing of the Chinese balloon used for espionage after US accusations. A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing expressed China’s “strong dissatisfaction” with the US use of force against a “civilian unmanned airship”. China reserves the right to “react as necessary”.

China has repeatedly informed the US that the balloon is for civilian purposes and entered US airspace “by force majeure, which was completely accidental.” The Pentagon itself has said the balloon poses no threat to the military or people on the ground. US insistence on the use of force under these circumstances is an “apparent overreaction” and a violation of standard international practice.