Navy releases close-up photos of Chinese surveillance balloon recovery
The U.S. Navy on Tuesday released the first close-up photos of operations to recover parts of the Chinese surveillance balloon shot down on Saturday.
The photos show debris recovery efforts on Sunday off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Navy said.
They depict what appear to be evening and nighttime efforts to retrieve the large balloon that the Pentagon has said was about 200-feet tall.
Divers were working to retrieve other parts of the balloon's payload assembly -- estimated to be the size of three buses -- that likely sunk to the bottom in about 45 feet of water in the area.
Officials have said the debris field is approximately the size of 15 football fields by 15 football fields and that the balloon had propellers and a rudder.
The Pentagon has said FBI experts were aboard recovery vessels and a senior government official has said pieces would be brought to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis.
Two U.S. officials have confirmed that most if not all of the balloon’s fabric that was floating on the surface has been recovered from the surface in the search area. It’s possible that other pieces may end up washing ashore but for now what they’ve seen has been picked up.
On Monday, NORAD commander Gen. Glen VanHerck told reporters that the Navy’s Pathfinder vessel, equipped with side-scan radar, was being used to see what was on the ocean floor. One official says that the payload portion of the balloon that was carrying the sensor/photography equipment is not intact and that only a portion of it has been located on the ocean floor. Only a very small portion of this payload was recovered from the surface water, the official said, noting that this description of the payload does not include the solar panels.
The search continues for the rest of that payload, the official said.
Small underwater drones, dropped from inflatable craft, are being used to help with the recovery effort.
Another official confirmed that the balloon was equipped with self-destruct explosives, but so far, no explosives have been found.
The same official confirms that U.S. U2 spy lines were used to photograph the payload area carrying the sensor equipment, adding that allowing the balloon to fly over the U.S. provided valuable information about how they operate.
MORE: Chinese surveillance balloons during Trump, early Biden admin not spotted by NORAD, commander says
Previous Chinese surveillance balloon incidents that occurred during the Trump administration and early under the Biden administration were not spotted by NORAD at the time, VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Monday.
"We did not detect those threats. And that's a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out," VanHerck said.
In Beijing Tuesday, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning was asked that about a comment Monday from White House Security Council spokesman John Kirby that there was no plan to return the balloon fragments and equipment to China and whether China had made any demands.
"What I can say is that this airship does not belong to the United States, but to China," Ming said. "The Chinese government will continue to resolutely safeguard its legitimate and legitimate rights and interests."
On Capitol Hill Tuesday, House Republicans continued to blast President Joe Biden over his handling of the balloon incident ahead of his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
"He really gave an order to shoot down a spy plane from China on Wednesday and it didn't happen till Saturday?" House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said. "Have you fired every single person that refused to obey the commander in chief?"
ABC News' Will Steakin and Karson Yiu contributed this report.
Navy releases close-up photos of Chinese surveillance balloon recovery originally appeared on abcnews.go.com