The US military released the first official images of its Chinese spy balloon recovery efforts Tuesday — as sailors continued to trawl the South Carolina coast for debris from the downed craft.
Navy personnel were pictured hauling large sections of the high-altitude balloon — which US officials say measured 200 feet tall — from the waters off Myrtle Beach after the surveillance device was shot down on Saturday.
In one image, half-a-dozen sailors could be seen dragging pieces of the balloon’s white material envelope and sections of metal onto a vessel.
Military officials haven’t yet determined the condition of the device — or how many pieces it may be in — and unmanned underwater vehicles are now being used to track and retrieve the debris.
Air Force General Glen VanHerck, head of US North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Northern Command (NORCOM) said Monday the Navy was taking protective measures during the recovery, in case there are explosives on the balloon.
VanHerck also said the debris was spread out over an area measuring more than “15 football fields by 15 football fields square.”
Once collected, the pieces of the obliterated craft are being taken to the FBI Laboratory at Quantico, Va. to be examined by the bureau and other counter-intelligence authorities.
US officials have said the successful recovery of the balloon could provide valuable insight into China’s spying capabilities — despite the Biden administration downplaying the downed device’s impact on national security.
“We need to understand more fully the Chinese surveillance capabilities and systems,” retired Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the former US Indo-Pacific Command commander, said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.
“Shooting down that [balloon] and then recovering the parts over the Atlantic ,I think, is very helpful in that regard.”
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan defended Biden’s decision to wait until the balloon was off the South Carolina coastline before shooting it down, saying military advisers assessed that downing it over water “created a greater possibility that we could effectively exploit the wreckage than if it were shot down over land.”
With Post wires