At about 2:40 p.m., an F-22 fighter jet fired a missile at the balloon, puncturing it while it was about 7 miles off the coast near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, senior defense officials said. The location of the shootdown was just a few miles south of the North Carolina border.
Police in the southernmost North Carolina beach town, Sunset Beach, warned residents against touching or moving any of the balloon’s debris.
“These stray pieces are expected to wash ashore in the North Carolina area,” Sunset Beach police warned in a news release Saturday afternoon.
Police said the debris is part of a federal investigation and no one should touch or remove it.
The debris landed in 47 feet of water, shallower than they had expected. Still, it was not immediately clear how long the recovery would take.
Fighter jets shot down the giant white balloon east of Myrtle Beach after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America and became the latest flashpoint in tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that Biden approved the shootdown on Wednesday, saying it should be done “as soon as the mission could be accomplished without undue risk to American lives under the balloon’s path.”
Austin said that due to the size and altitude of the balloon, which was moving at about 60,000 feet in the air, the military had determined that taking it down over land would pose an undue risk to people on the ground.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.