As thousands of spectators squinted into the sky Saturday, an F-22 needed only one shot with a missile to down a Chinese spy balloon that had infuriated the American public for days as it wandered from Montana over the American heartland to the South Carolina coast.
“I did not anticipate waking up to be in a ‘Top Gun’ movie today,” Ashlyn Preaux of Forestbrook, South Carolina said, according to The Associated Press.
“When it deflated it was pretty close to instantaneous. One second it’s there like a tiny moon and the next second it’s gone,” Bill Swanson of Myrtle Beach said.
With the Federal Aviation Administration having closed off a section of the South Carolina coast to air traffic, the balloon’s end had been in sight early Saturday afternoon. Among the cameras catching the dramatic end to the balloon’s troubling presence was one high-definition view posted on Twitter.
🚨#BREAKING: Incredible HD footage of the Chinese surveillance balloon being shot down
🚨#MyrtleBeach l #SC
Watch incredible HD video of the moment when the Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down by a single missile from an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base pic.twitter.com/KjwTrgcvcb
— R A W S A L E R T S (@rawsalerts) February 4, 2023
The spectacle brought some criticism from Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune.
“Lots of you noticed some unplanned fireworks over Myrtle Beach today. While this was done in a manner that ensured the safety of our citizens, I do have concerns about how the federal government can allow a foreign adversary to fly uninterrupted from Montana to our doorstep,” she wrote on Facebook.
“I hope we hear from our federal government how this happened and how they will prevent this, or anything like it, from happening again,” she wrote.
The Defense Department filled in a few of the blanks later in a Defense Department release.
The balloon was downed by an F-22 Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, according to the release. The Sidewinder missile that downed the balloon was fired at about 58,000 feet at a target at an altitude between 60,000 and 65,000 feet.
As the balloon itself dissolved, its payload dropped quickly from view.
No one was injured as the balloon landed in 47 feet of water about six miles from the shore.
Although the incident seemed quick, it was the results of planning that saw F-15s from Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, and tankers from Oregon, Montana, South Carolina and North Carolina on standby. The destroyer USS Oscar Austin, the cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the amphibious landing shop USS Carter Hall, were also deployed, the release stated.
South Carolina residents were warned against hunting for souvenirs.
“Debris should not be touched, moved or removed,” the Horry County, South Carolina, Police Department stated in a Twitter post. “Such items are part of a federal investigation and tampering could interfere in that investigation.”
⚠️REPORT DEBRIS TO DISPATCH⚠️
Earlier today, federal authorities conducted operations off the coast of Horry County that could result in debris in area waters.
Members of the US Military are coordinating to collect debris; however, fragments may make it to the coastline. pic.twitter.com/O5UZtC7EDZ
— Horry County PD (@horrycountypd) February 4, 2023
“The debris is in 47 feet of water, primarily … that will make it fairly easy, actually. We planned for much deeper water,” according to a Defense Department briefing transcript that described the speaker only as “a senior military official.”
The official said the recovery was underway.
“Multiple vessels, as I conveyed, are already on-scene. And a few things up off the surface right now. Once the salvage ship comes up, your question specific to divers, absolutely. We have divers that will be capable Navy divers to — to go down if needed. We’ll also have unmanned vessels that can go down to get the structure and lift it back up on the recovery ship,” the official said.
“We’ll have FBI on board as well under the counter-intelligence authorities to also be categorizing and assessing the platform itself,” the officials said.
The official said there was no timeline for the recovery.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.