Here’s a day-to-day timeline of events starring up to nan melodramatic shootdown complete nan h2o disconnected nan East Coast connected Saturday. The pursuing is based connected interviews pinch 3 elder U.S. officials, each of whom asked not to beryllium named owed to nan sensitivity of nan situation.
Saturday, Jan. 28:
The balloon is first detected complete U.S. airspace precocious complete Alaska, northbound of nan Aleutian Islands. The military’s North American Aerospace Defense Command intimately tracks nan balloon, assessing it poses nary threat aliases intelligence risk.
Monday, Jan. 30:
NORAD tracks nan balloon arsenic it travels into Canadian airspace. Officials find it is utilized for spying, arsenic it carries surveillance instrumentality including a postulation pod and star panels located connected nan metallic truss suspended beneath nan balloon. Based connected its mini motors and propellers, officials besides measure it tin beryllium actively maneuvered to alert complete circumstantial locations.
The balloon is portion of a Chinese fleet developed for spying, which complete nan past fewer years person been spotted complete countries crossed 5 continents, including Asia and Europe. Balloons were observed complete nan United States 3 times successful nan Trump administration, and erstwhile earlier astatine nan opening of nan Biden administration. What makes this caller brushwood different was nan agelong long complete nan continent.
Tuesday, Jan. 31:
The balloon re-enters U.S. airspace complete bluish Idaho. The Defense Department alerts President Joe Biden, who asks for subject options to sprout it down.
The Pentagon originates moving to support nan balloon from collecting delicate accusation from sites connected nan ground. This was “straightforward,” a elder management charismatic said, “because we could way nan nonstop way of nan balloon and guarantee nary activities aliases delicate unencrypted comms would beryllium conducted successful its vicinity.”
Wednesday, Feb. 1:
Pentagon officials are alarmed arsenic nan balloon makes its measurement complete Montana, which is location to Malmstrom Air Force Base, 1 of 3 sites that run and support nan nation’s silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin convenes subject and civilian leaders, including U.S. Northern Command Chief Gen. Glen VanHerck and Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley, to talk nan situation.
All flights astatine Billings Logan International Airport are grounded for astir 2 hours arsenic authorities measurement what to do. The subject scrambles F-22 combatant jets successful lawsuit a determination was made to sprout it down.
Ultimately, Milley and VanHerck urge against targeting nan balloon complete onshore owed to nan consequence to civilians from nan falling debris. Defense officials estimate debris from nan balloon, which is nan size of 3 buses, could autumn successful astatine slightest a seven-mile radius.
The president directs nan Pentagon to travel up pinch options to sprout down nan balloon arsenic soon arsenic it is safe to do truthful complete U.S. territorial waters, and successful a measurement that allows them to retrieve nan payload. He besides directs nan subject and intelligence organization to show nan balloon to summation penetration into its capabilities. NASA originates analyzing and assessing nan imaginable debris field, based connected nan trajectory of nan balloon, nan upwind and airship’s estimated payload.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman meet pinch Chinese embassy officials.
Thursday, Feb. 2:
The Pentagon issues a connection that a high-altitude Chinese surveillance balloon has entered U.S. airspace. Lawmakers telephone for briefings and statesman criticizing Biden for not shooting it down. Reports look of a 2nd balloon observed flying complete Central and South America.
The subject continues to activity connected options to bring down nan balloon safely. National information advisor Jake Sullivan updates nan president regularly.
Blinken decides to postpone his planned travel to China, and elder activity crossed nan management agree.
Friday, Feb. 3
The Chinese Foreign Ministry releases a connection acknowledging nan balloon is Chinese but claims it’s a civilian airship utilized to cod upwind data. China says it entered U.S. airspace accidentally and expresses regret. But U.S. officials push back, saying nan balloon is intelligibly utilized for surveillance and nan breach is simply a clear usurpation of U.S. sovereignty.
Biden is briefed connected Friday nighttime connected nan scheme to sprout down nan balloon connected Saturday complete Wilmington, North Carolina, including what craft will beryllium utilized to return it down and what naval vessels to retrieve it, arsenic good arsenic nan first intelligence study of its capabilities. Biden approves nan plan.
Throughout nan night, nan National Security Council and nan Pentagon activity to guarantee each measures are successful spot for nan scheme to succeed.
Saturday, Feb. 4:
In nan morning, Biden speaks pinch Austin and Sullivan aggregate times astir nan mission. Later, Biden pledges “we’re going to return attraction of it” erstwhile asked astir nan balloon during a extremity successful Syracuse, New York. He flashes a thumbs up to reporters erstwhile asked if nan subject was going to sprout it down, arsenic he boards Air Force One astatine Hancock Field Air National Guard Base successful New York.
The FAA temporarily grounds flights astatine airports successful Wilmington and successful Myrtle Beach and Charleston, South Carolina. This allows nan subject craft — an F-22 stealth combatant from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, F-15s from Barnes Air National Guard Base successful Massachusetts and tanker craft from aggregate locations — to get into position.
At 2:39 pm, nan F-22 flying astatine 58,000 feet shoots a azygous AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air rocket that takes down nan balloon, which is flying astatine an altitude of 60,000 to 65,000 feet. The subject originates efforts to retrieve nan balloon, which fell six nautical miles disconnected nan seashore successful an estimated 47 feet of water. The amphibious vessel USS Carter Hall, destroyer USS Oscar Austin and cruiser Philippine Sea are successful nan area to assistance pinch recovery. Navy divers are successful position to descend to nan tract if needed.
Once nan balloon is recovered, nan intelligence organization will statesman efforts to further analyse nan balloon.
“It’s really provided america a number of days to analyse this balloon [and] study a batch astir what this balloon was doing, really it was doing, why nan PRC mightiness beryllium utilizing balloons for illustration this,” said a elder DoD official. “We person learned method things astir this balloon and its surveillance capabilities. And I fishy if we are successful successful recovering aspects of nan debris, we will study moreover more.”
Later Saturday, China issues a connection calling nan shoot-down a usurpation of world believe and threatened repercussions. The U.S. authorities speaks straight pinch Beijing astir nan mission. The State Department briefs friends and partners astir nan world.
“The balloon ne'er posed a subject aliases beingness threat to nan American people. However, its intrusion of our airspace for aggregate days was an unacceptable usurpation of our sovereignty,” said nan elder DoD official.