The US has shot down a giant Chinese balloon that it says has been spying on key military sites across America.
The Department of Defense confirmed its fighter jets brought down the balloon over US territorial waters.
China’s foreign ministry later expressed “strong dissatisfaction and protest against the US’s use of force to attack civilian unmanned aircraft”.
Footage on US TV networks showed the balloon falling to the sea after a small explosion, The BBC reports.
An F-22 jet fighter engaged the high-altitude balloon with one missile – an AIM-9X Sidewinder – and it went down about six nautical miles off the US coast at 14:39 EST (19:39 GMT), a defence official told reporters.
Defence officials told US media the debris landed in 47ft (14m) of water – shallower than they had expected – near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The military is now trying to recover debris which is spread over seven miles (11km). Two naval ships, including one with a heavy crane for recovery, are in the area.
US President Joe Biden had been under pressure to shoot the balloon down since defence officials first announced they were tracking it on Thursday.
After the balloon was shot down, Mr Biden said: “They successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it.”
In a statement a few hours later, the Chinese foreign ministry said: “The Chinese side has repeatedly informed the US side after verification that the airship is for civilian use and entered the US due to force majeure – it was completely an accident.”
The discovery of the balloon set off a diplomatic crisis, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken immediately calling off this weekend’s trip to China over the “irresponsible act”.
The Chinese authorities have denied it is a spying aircraft, and instead said it was a weather ship blown astray.
President Biden first approved the plan to down the balloon on Wednesday, but the Pentagon said it had decided to wait until the object was over water so as not to put people on the ground at undue risk.
Groundwork for the operation was laid when the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) briefly paused all civilian flights at three airports around the South Carolina coast on Saturday afternoon because of a “national security effort”.
The coast guard also advised mariners to leave the area due to military operations “that present a significant hazard”.
An eyewitness on the coast, Hayley Walsh, told BBC News she saw three fighter jets circling before the missile was fired, then “we heard a huge boom, the house shook”.