Photos capture the moment US Navy sailors pulled the downed Chinese balloon out of the ocean
- Newly released photos show US sailors pulling a downed Chinese spy balloon out of the ocean.
- The balloon first appeared last week and was shot down by an F-22 fighter jet on Saturday.
The US Navy published photos on Tuesday that capture the moment sailors pulled a downed Chinese surveillance balloon out of the Atlantic Ocean.
A US Air Force F-22 fighter jet fired a single air-to-air missile to shoot down the high-altitude balloon over the coast of South Carolina on Saturday. China previously admitted that it owned the balloon, which first appeared last week while flying over the Pacific Northwest, but denied it was a spy balloon, as the US military said.
The F-22 was operating at an altitude of 58,000 feet when it sent the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile into the balloon, as it hovered somewhere between 60,000 and 65,000 feet, sending the system plummeting into waters several miles off the coast, a senior US defense official said over the weekend.
The US military has since been collecting debris from the balloon to gather more information about its capabilities.
The Navy photos, published by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS), show sailors pulling the dismembered balloon, which is now a mess of plastic and fabric, from the Atlantic Ocean for investigation.
Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of NORAD and US Northern Command, told reporters on Monday that he expected the debris field to be as large as "15 football fields by 15 football fields," with a depth of around 50 feet. He added that the balloon was about 200 feet tall with a payload the size of a "jet airliner" and probably weighed a few thousand pounds.
"I would remind you that due to ocean currents, it's possible that there may be some debris that does float ashore," VanHerck said.
He added that it was unclear where the debris would be sent to for a final analysis, "but I will tell you that certainly the intel community, along with the law enforcement community that works this under counter intelligence, will take a good look at it."
The senior US defense official said the balloon first entered the US Air Defense Identification Zone on January 28 and passed into US airspace over Alaska, before entering Canadian airspace two days later, and then reentering US airspace over the Pacific Northwest on January 31. It then traveled southeast across the continental US before it was downed off the Coast of South Carolina.
A second balloon also appeared floating over Central and South America, and China once again went on to confirm ownership on Monday. The defense official said these balloons belong to a fleet of Chinese balloons that carry out surveillance operations.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a recent statement that President Joe Biden on February 1 — several days before the operation — authorized the decision to down the balloon as soon as it could be done without risking the lives of those underneath the balloon's path.
"After careful analysis, US military commanders had determined downing the balloon while over land posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload," Austin said.
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