A portion of the suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down over the US has been recovered from the Atlantic Ocean, the US military says.
Search crews found “significant debris from the site, including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified”, said US Northern Command.
The FBI is examining the items, which the US says were used to spy on sensitive military sites.
The payload carried by the balloon weighed approximately 2,000 pounds and was the size of three school buses. About 30-40ft (9-12m) of the balloon’s antenna are among the items found, according to CBS.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Monday that crews have collected “a fair amount of debris” from the Chinese surveillance balloon. It was shot down last weekend on February 4.
The White House declined to place a timeline on further recovery efforts, especially given the variable weather conditions that have limited the ability of Navy divers to get in the water.
“It could take a long time, given the sea state and weather conditions and the degree to which when we have to protect the safety of the divers,” John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said on Monday.
US officials said the high-altitude balloon originated in China and was used for surveillance, but China said it was merely a weather-monitoring airship that had blown astray.
China now claims that spy balloons belonging to the US entered Chinese airspace without permission more than ten times last year.
The suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on 4 February after hovering for days over the continental US.
Since then, US aircraft have shot down a further three unidentified flying objects (UFOs) over US and Canadian airspace. The appearance of UFOs has fueled speculation about espionage, military activity, and even extraterrestrial life.
Speculation and conspiracy theories
Whilst the US and China continue to level accusations at each other, the appearance of four UFOs – or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) as they are referred to by the US government – over American and Canadian airspace have fuelled less orthodox theories.
A quick search on social media into the phenomenon will reveal several conspiracy theories. Some online commentators are entertaining the idea of extraterrestrial life, whereas others think the appearance of the balloon and subsequent UFOs are all part of a government PSYOP (psychological operation).
On Sunday, Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, refused to rule out any possibility, including an extraterrestrial origin, regarding the three aerial objects downed since the appearance of the balloon on February 4.
However, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed the idea that the objects were extraterrestrial in a subsequent press conference on Monday.
“I know there have been questions and concerns about this, but there is no — again no indication — of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns,” Jean-Pierre said.
“I wanted to make sure that the American people knew that, all of you knew that and it was important for us to say that from here because we’ve been hearing a lot about it.”