The United States military has shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that had been hovering over the US for several days. “We successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it,” President Joe Biden said on Saturday.

The US military fighter jets shot down the balloon shortly after the US government ordered a halt to flights around the South Carolina coast due to what it said at the time was an undisclosed “national security effort”.

Also Read | Is there a 3rd Chinese spy balloon? Officials reportedly believe it could be outside the United States

The payload of the balloon is the size of two to three school buses and the balloon itself is much larger, according to a US official. The balloon was flying at an altitude of around 66,000 feet.

An operation was going on in territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean to recover debris from the balloon, which had been flying at around 18,300 meters, the Associated Press reported.

Also Read | Fort Lee, New Jersey police shooting: Officers fatally shoot man, at John Street townhouse, possibly armed with knife

A television clip showed a small explosion, followed by a balloon falling toward the water.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin first announced the news, saying the balloon was being used by Chinese authorities “in an attempt to surveil strategic sites in the continental United States”. The US government has called the balloon a clear violation of its sovereignty.

Also Read |  Chinese Spy balloon shot down by US military off the coast in South Carolina: Watch

According to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry, the high-altitude balloon belongs to China and it referred to the airship as a civilian device “used for scientific research such as meteorology.”

The airship was “affected by the westerly wind” and its ability to control its direction “is limited,” as per the statement.

Also Read | Massive air mobilization to Montana amid second Chinese spy balloon, Billings explosion reports?

The Chinese ministry added that the balloon “seriously deviated from the scheduled route” and expressed regret that “the airship strayed into the United States due to force majeure.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled his historic visit to China that had been expected to start on Friday.