The U.S. Navy has released new photos of officials retrieving parts of a Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday.
The close-up photos, released by the U.S. Fleet Forces on Tuesday, show Navy sailors pulling parts of the high-altitude spy balloon from waters off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The photos from the recovery operation are dated Sunday. Based on the images, efforts appear to have continued into the late evening and nighttime. The debris field was reportedly the size of 15 football fields by 15 football fields.
Pentagon officials stated earlier that the balloon was about 200 feet (nearly 61 metres) tall. Divers were required to swim to depths of over 13 metres to gather pieces of the device that had sunk to the ocean floor in the area. Most, if not all, of the balloon’s fabric was retrieved from where it was floating on the water’s surface.
NORAD’s chief general Glen VanHerck told reporters Monday that the balloon’s payload portion, which stores sensor and photography equipment, was broken and only partially found.
He said some debris may float ashore, and he warned the public not to try to collect it.
Officials claim the balloon also had propellers and a rudder.
ABC News reported that the foreign device will be brought to an FBI lab in Quantico, Va., for analysis.
The surveillance balloon was downed by an F-22 Raptor jet. It was initially spotted floating over U.S. military sites last week.
China claims it was a civilian balloon used for meteorological research but has refused to say to which government department or company it belongs.
The size of the Chinese balloon in the U.S., as well as the equipment attached to it, had all drawn intense speculation as to its purpose. Along with Washington, most security experts dismissed Beijing’s assertions that the balloon was intended for meteorological rather than spying purposes.
Before Monday, U.S. officials had said that at least three times during the Trump administration and at least one other time during Biden’s time as president balloons have crossed American airspace. In those instances, the United States determined the balloons belonged to China only after they had left U.S. airspace, said VanHerck.
Balloons either suspected of or confirmed to be Chinese have been spotted over countries from Japan to Costa Rica. Taiwanese media have reported that mysterious white balloons had been spotted over the island at least three times in the past two years.
— With files from The Associated Press
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