A Timeline of China’s Spy Balloon


Image by 文 邵 from Pixabay

The presence of the balloon caused tensions between the U.S. and China.

Passengers on a commercial airliner spotted what has become known as the “spy” balloon on Feb. 1, 2023. According to ABC News, government officials had been closely tracking the object, believed to be a massive surveillance balloon from China, since the moment it entered U.S. airspace.

Traveling at an altitude of around 60,000 feet, the balloon had a vessel the size of three buses, officials said. Three days later, a U.S. fighter aircraft shot it down over the Atlantic Ocean.


According to a senior military official, the events related to the balloon follow this timeline:

  • Jan 28: The balloon enters U.S. airspace north of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. 
  • Jan. 30: The balloon enters Canada’s airspace over the Northwest Territories.
  • Jan. 31:  The balloon travels south and re-enters U.S. airspace over northern Idaho.
  • Feb. 1, 4:21 p.m. EST: Passengers on a plane report one of the balloon’s earliest sightings in Reed Point, Mont. 
  • Feb. 1, 6:46 p.m. EST: The balloon is filmed east of Reed Point, in Billings, Mont. According to U.S. officials, the balloon then travels from Montana to the Southeast, through South Dakota and Nebraska. Social media sightings of the balloon pop up as it moves south eastward across the U.S. 
  • Feb. 3, 9:41 a.m. EST: ABC News confirms another sighting of the balloon over Sabetha, Kan. 
  • Feb. 3, 11 a.m. EST: The balloon is filmed farther east over Saint Joseph, Mo.,
  • Feb. 3, 11:30 a.m. EST: Video footage captures the balloon traveling further south within the Kansas City metro area, in Lee’s Summit, Mo. According to a senior U.S. official familiar with this situation, the balloon appears to be heading toward North Carolina
  • Feb. 4: ABC News confirms several more sightings of the balloon in North Carolina.
  • Feb. 4, 8:40 a.m. EST: The balloon is filmed going over Biltmore Park in Asheville, N.C. 
  • Feb. 4, 10:22 a.m. EST: The balloon continues to move southeastward over the Hendersonville and Saluda areas before it is filmed over the Eagle Lake neighborhood in Charlotte, N.C.
  • Feb. 4, 11:15 a.m. EST: The balloon is seen over Lancaster. S,C. It continues moving southeastward toward the coastal city of Myrtle. S.C.
  • Feb. 4, 1:30 p.m. EST: The deploys a fighter aircraft which arrives near the balloon.
  • Feb. 4, 2:39 p.m. EST: The aircraft shoots the balloon down over the Atlantic Ocean.

China’s Response 

The question on everyone’s mind is will this lead to war?

In a statement, China admitted the object belonged to them, but added it was a civilian airship used for meteorological research that had been blown off course. Beijing claims the incident was an accident and that they regret the entry of the aircraft into U.S. airspace.

China is calling the U.S. response a clear overreaction, “unacceptable” and “irresponsible.” They claim that the U.S. has flown balloons into its airspace at least 10 times in the past year. 

“The first thing the U.S. should do is start with a clean slate, undergo some self-reflection, instead of smearing and accusing China,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

The U.S. has denied this accusation. The question on everyone’s mind is will this lead to war?