By Tom Ozimek
Montana officials have issued a statement saying that reports of a “massive explosion” taking place in the sky near where a Chinese spy balloon was spotted are inaccurate after a video went viral on social media purporting to show several blasts in the sky over Billings and what could be debris falling to the ground.
Two explosions and a trail of smoke in the sky over Billings Montana, where the balloon had been flying over the region, were captured on camera on Friday.
Dolly Moore, who shot the video and shared it on Twitter, said she saw a jet zooming by “so fast” followed by explosions.
The video was shared widely on social media and was picked up by a number of cable networks, drawing speculation whether the U.S. military had shot down the spy balloon, as a number of prominent current and former officials had called for.
In an appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said he had just been informed of an apparent explosion and that authorities were “monitoring the situation” and would provide an update when more information became available.
Initially, the City of Billings put out a statement on Twitter saying that they were aware of the video and claims of a “massive explosion” over Billings but that no plane crashes had been caught on radar and no emergency crews had been called in to respond to any incidents.
In a follow-up statement, the City of Billings said that Gianforte and the Montana Department of Emergency Services had confirmed there was no explosion in or around Billings, Montana.
“They are aware of the video and it can not be substantiated,” the statement said.
Pentagon officials, who have called the balloon’s presence over U.S. airspace at around 60,000 feet a “clear violation” of U.S. sovereignty, have said that they would most likely not shoot it down due to the risk of debris falling on civilian areas.
A senior defense official on Feb. 2 told reporters that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other top defense leadership convened on Feb. 1 to discuss the proper course of action regarding the balloon.
The official said the group arrived at a “strong recommendation” not to shoot it down “due to the risk to safety and security of people on the ground from the possible debris field.”
“Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years,” the official said, adding that the United States had been monitoring the balloon “for some time.”
“It has happened a handful of other times over the past few years, to include before this administration.”
Defense Department spokesperson Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said on Feb. 3 that the balloon would likely remain over the United States for multiple days.
China has said the object is not intended to spy on the United States.
“It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes,” reads a statement from the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The statement went on to claim that winds and the craft’s “limited self-steering capability” led it to “[deviate] far from its planned course.”
The Pentagon disagrees with China’s official take on the balloon.
“We are aware of the PRC statement. The fact is we know it is a surveillance balloon,” Ryder told reporters on Feb. 3.
Unanswered questions remain about the balloon, with Montana’s governor penning a letter to Austin asking for more information and expressing the view that “it should have been taken down well before now.”
“With Malmstrom Air Force Base and United States’ intercontinental ballistic missile fields in Montana, what intelligence does DoD believe the CCP’s spy balloon is gathering and what threat does the CCP’s spy balloon pose to our national security?” was one of Gianforte’s questions.
Another was what actions had the Pentagon and the Biden administration taken to bring down the balloon and “if there are none, why not?”
Several Montana lawmakers have disagreed with the decision not to shoot down the object.
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) told Fox News Digital that he thinks there is “no doubt” that U.S. forces could have shot down the balloon without endangering civilians.
“In Montana, Petroleum County, for example … the least populated county in the lower 48, I guarantee you, the fine citizens of Petroleum County would enjoy having it shot down over their county, and probably there would be a line to shoot it down.”
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) also voiced strong disapproval, saying that the U.S. treatment of the Chinese balloon was an outrage and an embarrassment.
Nathan Worcester contributed to this report.