One year ago today: Chinese spy balloon downed off Myrtle Beach coast

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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — One year ago today, thousands of people looked in awe not at the shoreline of Myrtle Beach’s oceans, but into the skies above as U.S. Air Force fighter jets took down a Chinese balloon suspected of spying.

First spotted in Montana, sightings were reported across the Pee Dee before it moved off the Myrtle Beach coast.

China insisted the balloon was a civilian airship used mostly for meteorological research that veered off course because of its limited “self-steering” capabilities. Top American officials including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, weren’t buying it.

“What I want China to know is that the American capability to do damage to China, economy an and military, you don’t want to do down that road,” he said days after the balloon was destroyed.

Mark A. Milley, then chairman of the U.S. Chiefs of Staff, told CBS News U.S. intelligence investigated the balloon’s remnants and found no evidence of spy equipment.

Officials later collected the balloon debris off the ocean floor.

Ironically, another high-altitude was seen soaring over the Grand Strand late last month, stoking questions about whether another overhead spy effort was under way.

But that device turned out to be the Thunderhead 200 Balloon System owned by Aerostar International, a company that specializes in building them.

“Sometimes to get from here to here, you have to loop through and that’s where, well, in this particular case, just happened to carry us over your area,” Russ Van Der Werff, the company’s vice president of stratospheric solutions, told News13.

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Adam Benson joined the News13 digital team in January 2024. He is a veteran South Carolina reporter with previous stops at the Greenwood Index-Journal, Post & Courier and The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. Adam is a Boston native and University of Utah graduate. Follow Adam on X, formerly Twitter, at @AdamNewshound12. See more of his work here.

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