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High above Charlotte, a suspected Chinese spy balloon drifts past

A suspected Chinese spy balloon floating over Charlotte late Saturday morning
Ely Portillo
A suspected Chinese spy balloon floating over Charlotte late Saturday morning.

Saturday dawned piercingly cold and clear in Charlotte, with only a few wisps of cloud, contrails from high-flying jets and a suspected Chinese spy balloon marring the bright blue sky.

The balloon drifted east across the North Carolina mountains early Saturday. It was spotted sailing over Charlotte by mid-morning, igniting a social media frenzy as residents uploaded pictures of the pale, white orb and local police urged them not to call 911 or shoot at it.

The Chinese foreign ministry says it’s a weather balloon blown off course, but Pentagon officials say they’re confident the balloon — initially spotted over Montana — can gather intelligence. Two military bases appeared to be the balloon’s path, Tillis said, Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg.

But before reaching those installations, the balloon slowly floated over south Charlotte and possibly Matthews, wafting past the Arboretum shopping center before drifting off to the south and east.

A few hours later, off the coast of South Carolina, the balloon was no more. U.S. fighter planes downed it at around 2:40 p.m., according to media reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has canceled his weekend trip to China, calling the balloon a “violation of U.S. sovereignty."


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Ely Portillo has worked as a journalist in Charlotte for over a decade. Before joining WFAE, he worked at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the Charlotte Observer.
Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal