Suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down over Atlantic was taller than the Statue of Liberty


By Li Cohen, CBS

8th February 2023 – (Washington) The Department of Defence on Monday revealed the size of the suspected Chinese spy balloon that the U.S. shot down over the Atlantic Ocean this weekend – and it turns out it was bigger than the Statue of Liberty. The balloon is believed to have been up to 200 feet tall, officials said, a height taller than New York’s iconic monument, which measures just over 151 feet tall from the top of its base to its torch.

The balloon, which officials said was carrying surveillance equipment the size of two to three school buses, was shot down over the weekend after it had been seen flying over the U.S. for several days. It was taken out of the air space at about 2.30pm on Saturday, officials told CBS News, with a single air-to-air missile over the Atlantic Ocean off of South Carolina’s coast. 

Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, revealed Monday that the actual balloon was up to 200 feet tall and that it was carrying a payload the size of a jet airliner. 

“[It] probably weighed in excess of a couple thousand pounds,” he said. “So I would – from a safety standpoint, picture yourself with large debris weighing hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds falling out of the sky. That’s really what we’re kind of talking about.”

A senior Biden administration official confirmed to CBS News on Tuesday that the U.S. intelligence community believes the balloon was part of an aerial surveillance program run by the People’s Liberation Army out of Hainan. The Washington Post was first to report this development.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman held a briefing Monday about the balloon incident for about 150 staff from roughly 40 embassies, the official also confirmed. In the briefing, it was revealed that one balloon circumnavigated the globe in 2019, passing by Hawaii and over Florida, the official said. Balloons were also flown over Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines, and the State Department is briefing other countries to alert them that their air space is being violated.   

The State Department also sent information on the espionage that can be shared with allies and partners to every U.S. Embassy, the official said.

On Wednesday, the Gang of Eight — the bipartisan group of eight congressional leaders who are tasked with reviewing national intelligence information — will also be briefed, and the rest of Congress will be briefed Thursday, the official disclosed.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that Congress was briefed in August on China’s aerial surveillance program. 

VanHerck said the massive debris field left behind by the destroyed balloon is about 4,921 feet by 4,921 feet – “more than 15 football fields by 15 football fields.” 

He told CBS News’ David Martin that officials have already “collected the majority of that debris that fell in the ocean and other places.” He also told Martin that the missile used to shoot down the balloon “absolutely” contained a warhead.

“There was a warhead in the missile,” he said. “You can see that explosion on TV as it goes through the lower part of the balloon and right there through the superstructure.”

Chinese spy balloon recovery
Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high altitude balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5, 2023. The suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down on Saturday, Feb. 4. U.S. NAVY PHOTO

VanHerck added that officials chose not to previously shoot down the balloon because it was initially believed that it “did not present a physical military threat to North America.” 

“I could not take immediate action because it was not demonstrating hostile act or hostile intent,” he said. 

China has claimed that the balloon was a weather device and said that the U.S. had an “overreaction” to it. But VanHerck said Monday officials “had a good indication that it was a surveillance balloon from the beginning.”

Margaret Brennan and David Martin contributed to this report.