MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WJHL) – Stan Bailey and his wife Jeannie were relaxing at Myrtle Beach when they witnessed history: the moment United States jets shot down a suspected spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
The Baileys, who are originally from Greeneville, Tennessee, had just started a month-long trip to the southern beach destination when headlines across the country were filled with stories of the massive, floating object. According to Department of Defense statements, the balloon first entered American airspace on Jan. 28. Stan and Jeannie Bailey had been keeping an eye on the news, but they didn’t expect it to have any personal impact.
“We had been following it casually since the news broke, probably Wednesday or Thursday,” Stan Bailey said. “And then we’d heard that it may be going over East Tennessee, and so that was sort of exciting. We thought some of our relatives might be able to see it.”
On Saturday, Bailey said a message from his brother alerted him to the possibility that the balloon was already overhead. Weather models predicted that the balloon’s path was headed toward Myrtle Beach, and Jeannie Bailey called him out to the hotel balcony where the two could see military jets flying overhead.
“I looked up and saw the planes and immediately knew that they were not commercial airlines because the contrails, as many as there were, the sharper turns,” Bailey said. “I said ‘those are military planes.'”
After spotting the balloon’s possible escort, the Baileys went down to the nearby beach to get a better view. Bailey said he had heard that the U.S. military might shoot the craft down between 2 and 3 p.m., so it looked like the balloon’s minutes were numbered.
“I went down to the beach, and as soon as I got on the beach and turned around and looked up,” Bailey said. “There it was just way up above, and I said ‘That’s the balloon!'”
Bailey called his wife out to the beach and told her that they were right underneath the craft.
“I called her and told her ‘Get down here, the balloon is actually right above us,'” he said. “‘We’re ground zero.'”
At the time, Bailey said few people nearby were aware of what was going on overhead.
“There are not a lot of people on the beach this time of year,” he said. “But the people that were there, it didn’t seem like anybody knew about it.”
Bailey went back to the hotel and sat by the pool for a while before there were any major changes in the situation.
“I was videoing what I thought was a couple of the planes, I think it was the plane with the missile and got a picture of it just as it fired the missile,” Bailey said. “Then I saw the balloon all of a sudden, just a big puff of smoke is what it looked like, and then it started falling.”
Bailey said the shot was met with celebration on the ground.
“Everybody started hollering ‘they got it, they got it’ and cheering and clapping,” Bailey said.
According to Department of Defense statements, the craft was hovering between 60,000 and 65,000 feet when an AIM-9X missile ruptured it at 2:39 p.m.
“I think it may have taken 10 seconds before we heard it,” Bailey said. “But then you hear a big boom. It took a long time for the sound to travel to us, but we definitely heard it.”
Before long, the Baileys saw what looked like naval ships on the horizon as part of the recovery effort. In a call with News Channel 11 on Monday afternoon, Bailey said he could still see ships patrolling the area.
“There was a ship appeared,” Bailey said. “And then another one, and then another one. There have been four vessels out there the whole time.”
Military helicopters were seen flying over the area as well, Bailey said.
“A couple flew by around 7:30 last night,” he said. “With their searchlight on, right on the shoreline.”
Bailey said they haven’t seen any debris or material wash up nearby, but people in the area have been told not to disturb anything that may appear.
The event was odd, of course, for the Baileys to experience on vacation, but all in all, he said it was a bit of a bonus.
“It’s definitely not a damper, I mean it’s just something different,” Bailey said. “Exciting in a sort of strange way, to see your military actually take down something like that that came over from an adversary. So it’s sort of exciting.”