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Downed Chinese Balloon aimed for Hawaii But was Blown Off Course by Preceding Winds

A Chinese balloon shot down after crossing the continental United States originally had a trajectory that would have taken it over Guam and Hawaii but was blown off course by prevailing winds, a US official speaking on condition of anonymity told reporters on Wednesday.

The Balloon, first spotted in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands on 28 January, drifting across the US mainland before being shot down by a US fighter jet near South Carolina. It was a high-altitude surveillance balloon designed to gather intelligence at altitudes where satellites couldn’t go. It was piloted remotely and had propellers, the Post reported.

It also flew at a low altitude, at 20,000 feet — not as high as commercial planes often fly but still far above the Balloon’s intended target. As it began to drift, US intelligence officials monitored it. They thought it was on a track to surveil military bases in Guam and Hawaii.

China balloon saga spotlights Beijing's global spying push | Stars and Stripes

On 1 February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his deputy Wendy Sherman wrote to a senior Chinese diplomat in Beijing, warning that the Balloon was posing a national security threat. Shortly afterward, Chinese foreign ministry officials told their American counterparts that the Balloon was a harmless civilian machine with no intent to invade American air space or violate its sovereignty.

The downed Balloon was then tracked as it traveled over the continental United States, according to a report by The Washington Post. It remained in the US airspace for a week, flying at altitudes lower than most civilian aircraft.

Several days later, it was spotted over Montana where 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles were buried in missile silos at Malmstrom Air Force Base. A White House official said that the Balloon was spotted by military leaders who advised Biden not to shoot it down due to the risk to people on the ground.

However, the official said Biden was concerned that the downed Balloon posed a safety or security issue. So he ordered National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to form an interagency team to develop guidelines on how to address unidentified aerial objects in the future, according to Reuters.

But the group hasn’t yet agreed on how to deal with unidentified balloons that drift into American airspace, according to a US official. The US Air Force, National Guard, and other government agencies are coordinating their efforts to recover any debris that may have been left behind.

In the meantime, President Joe Biden plans to give a speech soon to address issues surrounding the downed Balloon, and three other objects shot down by US fighter jets, Reuters reports. It is expected to include more detail than previous statements by the Biden administration; a source tells Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The US had been tracking the Balloon from its launch at China’s Hainan Island. Then, it departed on a long-range flight that crossed the Pacific Ocean and entered North American airspace over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.


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