Several hundred thousand people were tracking U.S. Air Force flight SPAR19 on Tuesday, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Taiwan.
Media footage captured Pelosi stepping off the most-watched plane in the world in Taipei, Taiwan — where it was Tuesday night. Pelosi became the highest-ranking American official to visit the self-ruled island that is claimed by China in 25 years.
Global flight tracking service Flightradar24, which provides real-time information about thousands of aircraft around the world, told MarketWatch that flight with the call sign SPAR19 — which was presumed to be carrying Pelosi — has been drawing record eyeballs since it left the United States over the weekend.
Trackers glued to the service included the state-owned Chinese publication Global Times. “According to Flightradar24, a Boeing C-40C with the call sign SPAR19 has departed from Paya Lebar Air Base this morning,” the Global Times wrote at one point, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
“As soon as the flight became active [Tuesday], it was the most-tracked flight on our service,” Ian Petchenik, Flightradar24’s director of communications, told MarketWatch. “And then passing Manila [capital of the Phillippines], it became the most-tracked live flight of all time.”
And just before the flight landed in Taipei, Taiwan, Petchenik said more than 700,000 people were watching. “This is as busy as it gets,” he added.
The interest in Pelosi’s flight was so great that it strained Flightradar24’s servers, leading it to put up a virtual “waiting room” for people trying to get into the tracking service.
Previously, Flightradar24’s most-tracked flight was Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s commercial jet flight back to Russia after he recovered from a suspected poisoning attempt on his life.
Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan has infuriated China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be annexed by force, if necessary. China has warned of retaliation if Pelosi visits, saying its military will “never sit idly by.”
“The U.S. and Taiwan have colluded to make provocations first, and China has only been compelled to act out of self-defense,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters Tuesday in Beijing.
Pelosi’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.