Has the Chinese spy balloon been recovered? The navy works to learn its secrets

A suspected Chinese spy balloon was fired from the sky by the US military over the weekend, after crossing a large swath of US and Canadian territory.

The high-altitude plane was cleared to travel in US airspace as President Joe Biden accepted a recommendation not to retire it while it remained above land, amid safety concerns for people on the ground. A recovery operation is underway to secure and assess the debris.

The balloon was first spotted north of the Aleutian Islands on January 28, and it moved over Alaska and into western Canada on January 30. It then returned to US territory on Tuesday, before being spotted over Montana, home to one of three missile silo fields – on Wednesday. Modeling suggests it drifted across the Pacific from mainland China.

It was shot down and pierced by an F-22 fighter at 2:39 p.m. ET Saturday, about six nautical miles off Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, North American Aerospace Defense Command officials said. (NORAD). It was flying at an altitude of about 18,000 meters (60,000 ft).

At the time the spy balloon was hit by an F-22 fighter jet off Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on February 4, 2023 and inset, General Glen VanHerck, Commander of NORAD and US Northern Command on March 24, 2022. A recovery operation is underway to secure and assess the debris.
Drew Angerer/Myrtle Beach City Government/Getty Images

General Glen VanHerck, commander of NORAD, said in a statement that, under the president’s direction, US Northern Command, which he also oversees, lowered the balloon “into US sovereign airspace and above US territorial waters to protect civilians while maximizing our ability to recover the payload.”

The debris from the stratospheric balloon landed in 47 feet of water over an area of ​​approximately seven miles. Officials told The Associated Press that the recovery would be complete in a short period of time and the remains of the craft should be taken for further analysis at an FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia.

NORAD said on Sunday that US Air Force and Navy personnel were “working to recover the balloon and payload.”

In a statement late Saturday, North Myrtle Beach police confirmed the U.S. military was picking up the debris, adding that “it is possible some of these pieces could wash up on shore.”

“The debris must not be touched, moved or removed. These items are part of a federal investigation and tampering with them could interfere with that investigation,” the force said.

Defense officials have previously said they believe the balloon was designed to gather information about military sites in the United States, but did not give China any intelligence beyond what it could already obtain by other means, suggesting that his primary intention was to inflame tensions.

Joe Biden Chinese Maryland Spy Ball
U.S. President Joe Biden arrives at Hagerstown Regional Airport in Hagerstown, Maryland February 4, 2023. He congratulated the fighter pilots on ‘successfully’ getting the balloon out.

Analysis of the wreckage will likely focus not only on the design of the aircraft, but also on the type of equipment it was carrying, and therefore what information it was able to gather. Newsweek contacted NORAD for comment.

China has insisted the alleged spy balloon was a civilian plane that accidentally drifted over the United States. On Monday, she said America had “severely impacted and damaged the efforts and progress of both sides in stabilizing China-US relations” by using military force.

Xie Feng, China’s vice foreign minister, said he filed a formal complaint with the US Embassy on Sunday for the “attack” on the United States.

Pentagon officials publicly confirmed the balloon was in US airspace on Thursday. According to the Associated Press, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and U.S. officials said following the announcement the ball had changed course.

This went against the Chinese claim that the ball had limited steering capabilities and drifted off course.


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