The U.S. Navy has released photos of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down on Saturday.
The U.S. Naval Fleet Command posted several photos on its Facebook page showing large pieces of the balloon being dragged onto a ship.
Sailors involved in recovering the wreckage on Sunday were members of the Navy’s specialized explosive ordnance disposal team, the post said.
Authorities will now examine fragments of the device to determine whether it is indeed spy equipment.
U.S. officials described the balloon as standing about 200 feet (60 meters) tall, with a payload section about the size of a regional airliner and weighing hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
NORAD commander Gen. Glen VanHerck said the failure to shoot down the balloon over land was due to its size and composition.
“Imagine huge pieces of debris weighing hundreds or even thousands of pounds falling from the sky,” he said.
The U.S. believes the balloon was used to monitor sensitive military sites, while China says the balloon was a civilian airship used for scientific research purposes such as meteorology and entered the U.S. due to force majeure.
On Tuesday, U.S. officials said the Pentagon tried to arrange for a phone call between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, after the balloon was shot down, but China rebuffed it.
“At a time like this, the line between our military is especially important … Unfortunately, China has denied our request,” Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said in a statement.
The discovery of the massive balloon sparked a diplomatic crisis that prompted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to immediately cancel a trip to China scheduled to begin last weekend, the first high-level meeting between the two countries in years . The US accused China of “irresponsible behavior”.
On Saturday, the U.S. military used an F-22 fighter jet to shoot down a balloon crossing the United States about 6 nautical miles off the east coast. Authorities then began recovering pieces of the balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
The Navy said debris was spread across seven miles (11 kilometers) of the Atlantic Ocean. The area where the debris fell is the size of 225 football fields, officials said.
Two Navy ships – including a heavy crane for recovery – were dispatched to the area. However, photos show that some of the balloon material was able to be pulled onto the boat by hand.
The U.S. military has also deployed unmanned underwater vehicles as part of the search effort.
“They found some remnants on the surface, but weather conditions did not allow for undersea monitoring of the area where the debris fell,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Monday.
He said American personnel “will be able to get there in the next few days and get a better look at what’s going on under the sea, but that’s just the beginning.”
Adm Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed back against China‘s claim that the balloon was “strayed into” the U.S. off course, saying it “had a propeller on it” and was therefore “deliberate”.
There are currently no plans to send the balloon wreckage back to China, the U.S. official said, adding that intelligence experts will analyze the recovered debris.
Experts say the remains of the balloon could provide the United States with valuable information about Chinese aerial reconnaissance techniques and techniques, allowing it to better understand the balloon’s capabilities and how it transmits information.
However, efforts to recover the balloon equipment have been complicated by the need to keep U.S. personnel safe from potentially hazardous materials, such as explosives or battery components.
U.S. defense officials announced for the first time last Thursday that they were tracking the strange object and waiting to shoot it down until it was safely above sea.
Footage showed the balloon crashing into the sea after a small explosion.
On Friday, the Pentagon said it had spotted a second Chinese “spy” balloon over Latin America. Sightings have been reported over Costa Rica and Venezuela.
The Colombian air force said it spotted an identifiable object, believed to be a balloon, above 55,000 feet in the country’s airspace on Feb. 3.
The Colombian air force said it followed the object until it left its airspace, adding that it posed no threat to national security.