The US Navy has released photos of debris of the suspected Chinese spy balloon which was shot down by an American F-22 fighter jet over the Atlantic Ocean on February 4.
The photos were published on Tuesday by the US Fleet Forces Command on its social media handles.
The balloon was retrieved off the coast of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina a day after it was shot down, the BBC reported.
According to the Navy, the balloon’s debris was spread over 11 km of the Atlantic Ocean, and two naval ships were sent to the area.
The photos showed the piles of balloon material being pulled aboard by hand.
According to the US Fleet Forces Command, the sailors retrieving the debris on Sunday were part of the Navy’s specialist explosives team.
The debris were now being sent to an FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis to see whether it was indeed spy equipment, reports CNN.
On Monday, Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), told reporters that the balloon was roughly 200 feet tall and carried a payload portion comparable in size to regional airliners and weighing hundreds, or potentially thousands of pounds.
US defence officials first announced they were tracking the “strange object” on February 2, and waited until it was safely over water before shooting it down.
The discovery of the balloon set off a diplomatic crisis, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken immediately calling off a weekend trip to China — which would be the first such high level US-China meeting there in years — over the “irresponsible act”.
On Tuesday, US officials said the Pentagon sought to arrange a phone call between Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart after the balloon was shot down, but was rebuffed by Beijing, reports the BBC.
“Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this,” defence press secretary Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) has declined our request.”
China had admitted ownership of the balloon on Monday, saying it was used for flight tests and had “seriously deviated” from its flight course “by mistake”.
“China is a responsible country. We have always strictly abided by international law. We have informed all relevant parties and appropriately handled the situation, which did not pose any threats to any countries,” CNN quoted Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning as saying to reporters.
On February 3, the Pentagon had said a second Chinese spy balloon had been spotted — this time over Latin America with reported sightings over Costa Rica and Venezuela.
Colombia’s Air Force says an identified object — believed to be a balloon — was detectedin the country’s airspace at above 55,000ft.
It says it followed the object until it left the airspace, adding that it did not represent a threat to national security.