Chinese balloon could leave US East Coast on Saturday - reports
Media reports suggest that the Chinese balloon flying over the United States is expected to leave the US East Coast as early as Saturday morning.
The Chinese balloon detected over the United States, which Beijing is saying is to serve civilian purposes related to meteorology, may leave the East Coast on Saturday, CNN reported.
According to a weather model of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the high-altitude balloon could exit the United States East Coast "as early as Saturday morning."
Concurrently, two unnamed US defense officials confirmed the estimate during a conversation with CNN. They went on to underline that the balloon was expected to reach the East Coast and move out to sea in the Southeast.
The Pentagon confirmed on Thursday that it was tracking a Chinese balloon flying high over the United States, just days ahead of a rare visit to Beijing by the Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
A senior defense official told reporters that at US President Joe Biden's request, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and top military officials allegedly considered shooting the balloon down but decided that doing so would endanger too many people on the ground.
In light of the accidental entry of a Chinese unmanned airship into US airspace on Friday, Beijing's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said via a spokesperson that China regretted the unintended breach of US airspace.
The spokesperson said that the device had strayed away from its planned course due to force majeure.
This came ahead of a scheduled visit to China by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken intended to ease the tensions between the two countries.
The Financial Times reported that Blinken canceled his trip to Beijing over the incident, hours before he was supposed to depart for China.
Several US politicians and commentators have called for canceling the meeting over the accidental breach, including Nikki Hailey and Donald Trump.
Later on, the Pentagon said the Chinese research balloon that accidentally breached US airspace on Thursday poses no threat to people on the ground.
Ryder told a press conference that the balloon was a surveillance balloon, adding, "We do assess at this time that it does not pose a physical threat to people on the ground."
"Clearly, it is a balloon that has a payload underneath it… It's got a large payload – the surveillance component – underneath the actual balloon piece of it."
Ryder added that the balloon was expected to hover over the US for several more days. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is continuing to track it.
At present time, shooting down the balloon may injure civilians or damage property, Ryder said, noting that it was currently around 60,000 feet above the ground, specifically above the zone where civilian aircraft operate.