An explosion in the sky over Billings Montana, where a Chinese spy balloon has been flying over the region, was caught on camera Friday.
Mysterious video of the aftermath shows a trail of smoke in the sky where the balloon was last spotted.
Dolly Moore, who took video of the scene, said she ‘saw a jet go by so fast and then explosion in the sky.’
As the video spread on social media, Defense officials have said the balloon over Montana has not exploded.
It comes after the US State Department called the balloon, which was traveling over U.S. airspace at 60,000 feet, a ‘clear violation’ of U.S. sovereignty, but said it wouldn’t be shot down because it was flying over a ‘number of sensitive sites.’
Video of the aftermath reveals a trail of smoke in the sky where the balloon was when flying over Billings, Montana, on Friday
A US defense official said the balloon is the size of several buses – but doesn’t post an immediate threat to Americans. The balloon, pictured over Montana, has been tracked for several days but officials decided not to shoot it down over fears about debris. China claims it is a civilian airship used for meteorological research
The balloon flew over the Aleutian Islands in the northern Pacific Ocean, and then crossed Canadian airspace into the United States
US officials had said that the balloon is large enough that destroying it would rain down debris, risking the safety of people on the ground.
Analysts said the balloon is about the size of ‘three buses’ and could be fitted with high-tech equipment including cameras, sensors and radar.
F-22 fight jets were mobilized to track the device as it hoved over Montana, which borders Canada, on Wednesday.
A US defense official said it entered US airspace ‘a couple days ago’ but its exact location was not shared.
Montana Senator Steve Daines, however, warned that the balloon might have been targeting his state’s nuclear missile fields.
‘Montana plays a vital national security role by housing nuclear missile silos at Malmstrom AFB,’ Daines wrote to the Department of Defense.
‘Given the increased hostility and destabilization around the globe aimed at the United States and our allies, I am alarmed by the fact that this spy balloon was able to infiltrate the airspace of our country and Montana.’
A US defense official said the balloon is the size of several buses – but doesn’t post an immediate threat to Americans
China’s foreign ministry said the balloon ‘seriously deviated from the scheduled route’ and expressed regret that ‘the airship strayed into the United States due to force majeure’ and claimed it was used for scientific research ‘such as meteorology’ – something Pentagon disputed.
The detection of the balloon, which triggered alarm in the White House and the Pentagon, adds to a series of recent controversies that have further strained the tense relationship between China and the United States.
Beijing had urged calm while it established the ‘facts’ before a statement on Friday morning said the balloon was a weather research device that had ‘deviated far from its planned course’.
The Chinese foreign ministry said it regretted that the balloon had mistakenly entered US airspace. Republican leaders and former President Donald Trump had led calls for the balloon to be show down.
Deflating: Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Beijing of his decision to postpone his trip to China Friday morning over the balloon issue
The Chinese surveillance balloon is estimated to be about the width of three buses. The balloon is fitted with solar panels to power the on-board equipment, which could include long-range cameras and radar. It was traveling at an altitude of around 60,000ft on Friday afternoon, but the balloons can reach heights of around double that
Following the balloon’s sighting, the US canceled Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s long-planned trip to China.
The trip was to feature a landmark meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, on a trip President Biden and Xi announced the visit during their own high-stakes summit meeting in Bali in November.
‘We do acknowledge, we note the PRC statement of regret,’ a senior State Department said Friday when announcing the decision.
‘But again, the presence of this balloon in our airspace is clearly unacceptable and a clear violation of our sovereignty. And our clear assessment was that under these current conditions, it wouldn’t be constructive to visit Beijing at this time.’
Blinken ‘postponed’ his planned trip ‘following the detection of a suspected spy balloon over the United States, which Beijing has claimed is a civilian airship which blew off course.’
Why would China launch a ‘spy balloon’ over Montana? Beijing suspected of delving into the ‘Cold War playbook’
The detection of the suspected Chinese spy balloon over the United States triggered speculation that Beijing was mounting a concerted surveillance effort near sensitive military sites.
China has claimed the balloon is a civilian airship that blew off course, but analysts have said the balloon could be a Cold War-era espionage technique deployed in US airspace.
Balloons have been used as a spying technique – including by the US – since the 1950s. But technological advancements mean modern models are harder to detect and have much greater surveillance capabilities.
The balloon currently floating over the US is about the size of three buses. It is believed to have flown over the Aleutian Islands in the northern Pacific Ocean, and then crossed Canadian airspace into the United States.
One model suggests it’s likely to drift further into the Midwest and over Missouri by Saturday, but the nature of the device and changing weather makes an accurate prediction difficult.
The balloon is large enough that destroying it would rain down debris, risking the safety of people on the ground, US officials said.
The balloon’s path takes it over ‘a number of sensitive sites’, a senior Pentagon official said when asked about the presence of nuclear missile silos in Montana.
‘Clearly, they’re trying to fly… this balloon over sensitive sites… to collect information,’ the official added.
However, the balloon’s tech is not ‘revolutionary’ and its observations are not better than what China is capable of seeing through other means such as its spy satellites.
China’s claim that the balloon is a civilian weather-monitoring device are not totally baseless. Such balloons, which can appear similar to a surveillance device, are common tools for meteorological research.
China has sent such balloons over the United States in recent years, the senior Pentagon official said.
The official did not share details, but indicated the flights were detected as far back as the administration of the previous president Donald Trump.
However, the official added, this is the first time a Chinese balloon has stayed in US airspace for an extended period.