The U.S. military began collecting the remnants of a Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon, Feb. 6, shot down by an Air Force fighter over the weekend.
Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, said the recovery effort began about 10 a.m. Rough seas thwarted safe, comprehensive debris collection Feb. 5, 2023, he said.
On Feb. 4, an F-22 Raptor fighter from the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., fired one AIM-9X Sidewinder missile at the balloon, which had floated southeastward across the United States.
It fell about six miles off the coast of South Carolina into about 50 feet of water. No one was hurt.
Precautions are being taken during the salvage operation in case explosives or toxic substances are present, VanHerck said.
Due to changing ocean currents, it’s possible that some debris could escape notice and wash ashore. VanHerck said members of the public can assist by informing local law enforcement personnel if they spot remnants of the balloon; they should not collect it themselves.
The USS Carter Hall, an amphibious landing ship, is collecting debris in the vicinity of the splashdown, he said.
The USNS Pathfinder, a survey ship, is mapping the ocean floor using sonar for the debris search, VanHerck said.
Explosive ordnance members and at least one unmanned underwater vehicle are also participating, he said.
In addition, VanHerck said the Coast Guard cutters Venturous, Richard Snyder and Nathan B. Bruckenthal, along with Coast Guard aviation support, are keeping the area safe for military personnel and the general public.
The FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents are embedded with salvage operations personnel to assist in counterintelligence work, he added.
VanHerck mentioned that the Federal Aviation Administration was helpful in closing air space when the balloon was being shot down.
It’s truly been an interagency team effort, VanHerck noted.