RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/AP) — A North Carolina Republican Senator called the days-long travel of a Chinese spy balloon over sensitive military sites across the United States an “embarrassing episode” after it ended with a fighter jet shooting down the balloon several miles off the North Carolina coast Saturday afternoon.
Sen. Thom Tillis earlier Saturday said the balloon should “have been brought down days ago.”
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 balloon was first revealed as being a spy device as it was over Montana. Chinese officials still maintain it was a weather monitoring balloon.
The balloon floated over several states including Missouri, Tennessee and North Carolina while carrying a payload the size of three school buses.
Tillis released a statement after the balloon was shot down.
“Now that this embarrassing episode is over, we need answers from the Biden Administration on the decision-making process,” Tillis wrote on Twitter Saturday. “Communist China was allowed to violate American sovereignty unimpeded for days. We must be better prepared for future provocations and incursions by the CCP.”
The Biden administration has said the balloon was not brought down sooner because of possible danger to people on the ground by falling debris. Officials have said Biden wanted the balloon downed earlier but was advised that the best time for the operation would be when it was over water.
In Montana — home to Malmstrom Air Force base and dozens of nuclear missile silos — people doubted Beijing’s claim that it was a weather balloon gone off course. And the governor and members of Congress pressed the Biden administration over why the military did not immediately bring it down from the sky.
“I question whether or not we would even found out about this if people hadn’t spotted it in Billings,” said Chase Doak, a resident of the southern Montana city who appears to have captured some of the first known video footage and photographs of the balloon.
After the balloon was shot down, 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. The Navy is taking the lead, supported by the Coast Guard.
Another North Carolina Republican also was critical of the response regarding the balloon.
Congressman Chuck Edwards (NC-11) released a statement Saturday morning about the incident.
“I am outraged at this unprecedented Chinese invasion of American airspace. This is happening because we have a weak president who garners no respect from the Chinese Communist Party,” Edwards said in a news release.
Edwards said he wants to reduce dependence on China.
“That is why I voted for legislation to establish the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. I expect that work to reveal many elements of our relationship with China that must be addressed,” the news release said.