U.S. Military Shoots Down Suspected Chinese Spy Balloon Off Carolina Coast

This handout photo from Chase Doak taken on February 1, 2023 and released on February 2 shows a suspected Chinese spy balloon in the sky over Billings, Montana
This handout photo from Chase Doak taken on February 1, 2023 and released on February 2 shows a suspected Chinese spy balloon in the sky over Billings, Montana

CHASE DOAK/AFP via Getty Images Suspected Chinese spy balloon in the sky over Billings, Montana

A suspected Chinese spy balloon spotted by the U.S. government earlier this week was shot out of the sky Saturday afternoon.

The scene, which took place off the Carolina coast, was captured on live television and showed a small explosion as the balloon's debris eventually began falling.

"I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down on Wednesday as soon as possible," President Joe Biden told reporters. "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 a 12-mile limit. They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it."

RELATED: Suspected Chinese Spy Balloon 'the Size of 3 Buses' Is Spotted Flying Over United States

"We'll have more to report on this a little later. Thank you," Biden said, reiterating that he "told them to shoot it down" Wednesday before being asked to "wait for the safest place to do it."

The U.S. is now recovering debris in the Atlantic after the balloon fell from the estimated 60,000 feet that it had been traveling at, per the Associated Press, which also notes that the Federal Aviation Administration and Coast Guard worked to clear the surrounding areas as it fell to the water.

U.S. military jets were flying in the area surrounding the balloon, as ships were positioned to recover debris, per the AP.

The downing follows a statement from the FAA that it "paused departures from and arrivals to" three different airports "to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort." In a follow-up Tweet, the FAA announced that normal operations were "resuming" in Wilmington, N.C., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Charleston, S.C.

The takedown of the suspected spy balloon also comes hours after Biden broke his silence about the matter Saturday when reporters in Syracuse asked him what his plans were to address it.

"We're gonna take care of it," Biden told CNN at the time.

Joe Biden
Joe Biden

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Joe Biden

RELATED: Biden's Willingness to Comply with Search for Classified Documents Reveals Different Attitude to Trump

Pentagon Press Secretary Gen. Pat Ryder previously told reporters at a Thursday briefing that the U.S. had "detected and is tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon that is over the continental United States right now." At the time, a senior defense official claimed the government had "very high confidence" that it belonged to China and didn't pose a "threat" at the time, per a Defense Department release.

On Thursday, the official also noted that the government opted not to shoot the balloon down due to potential damage from debris to the communities below it.

"We did assess that it was large enough to cause damage from the debris field if we downed it over an area," the official said when asked about the size of the object during the briefing. "I can't really go into the dimension — but there have been reports of pilots seeing this thing, even though it's pretty high up in the sky. So ... it's sizable."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had also indefinitely postponed his trip to China, which was scheduled for Sunday, due to the balloon, per The Wall Street Journal. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, per the AP, that the U.S. and China "have never announced any visit" as "the U.S. making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that."

Chinese officials have claimed the balloon was used for meteorological research and accidentally entered U.S. airspace, noting that it was a weather research "airship," the AP reports.

The Pentagon also stated earlier in the week that it had "made clear" to Chinese officials that it would "do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland." The Pentagon shared reports on Friday of a second balloon seen over Latin America, per the AP.

"It's happened a handful of other times over the past few years, to include before this administration," the official said. "It is appearing to hang out for a longer period of time, this time around, [and is] more persistent than in previous instances. That would be one distinguishing factor."