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New images of the Chinese balloon recovery show the closest glimpse yet

Navy sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Sunday. The FBI joined in the recovery effort, along with a survey ship that can map the seabed. (U.S. Navy/AP)
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U.S. service members have recovered substantial remnants of the Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down over the Atlantic on Saturday, according to newly released photos that provided the closest glimpse yet of the craft.

Photos from the Sunday recovery show Navy sailors dragging the deflated balloon and parts of its structure onto inflatable boats off the coast of Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The sailors are assigned to Virginia-based Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2, drawing on their experience in handling dangerous material at sea. Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, who oversees the North American Aerospace Defense Command, told reporters Monday that while they didn’t assess whether explosives were on board, it was appropriate for crews on the scene to proceed as though there could be. They may encounter other hazardous objects, such as shards of solar panel glass or batteries.

While officials said it is too early to tell how much of the craft would be intact, the photos provide a sense that some material has survived the encounter with a fighter jet’s missile. The balloon itself is about 200 feet tall and carrying equipment measuring roughly the size of a regional jetliner, VanHerck said, estimating its weight at about 2,000 pounds. Officials have not described the equipment in detail.

That material scattered into a debris field measuring about 1,500 meters by 1,500 meters, VanHerck said, in about 50 feet of water. The FBI will analyze the recovered material, officials have said.

U.S. military failed to detect prior Chinese incursions, general says

The search is being led by personnel aboard the USS Carter Hall, an amphibious ship based in the Norfolk area. Shipping data on Monday showed it sailing in neat rows, indicating an apparent grid search, more than 10 miles off the coast of Myrtle Beach.

The Carter Hall is joined by other vessels, including the USNS Pathfinder, an oceanographic survey ship that will map the bottom of the Atlantic where the majority of the debris splashed down and sank, VanHerck said. Coast Guard aircraft flying from Elizabeth City, N.C., and Savannah, Ga., also are involved.

More on the flying objects shot down over U.S., Canada

The latest: U.S. fighter jets have shot four objects out of the sky over North America this month. The first object, a balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast, was Chinese. Biden said Thursday the three other objects did not so far appear to have connections to foreign surveillance programs.

The first balloon: The first object was linked by the U.S. intelligence community to a vast surveillance program run by the People’s Liberation Army. Here’s a timeline of the balloon’s journey across the United States and photos of the recovery.

The response from China: China’s Foreign Ministry said the U.S. has sent at least 10 unsanctioned balloons into Chinese airspace since last year. China accused the United States of an “overreaction” and reiterated claims that the airship was a civilian vessel that drifted off course.

Why use a spy balloon? Spy balloons “offer a few advantages over the use of satellites or drones,” James Rogers, an academic at Cornell, tells us. The Defense Department told Congress that similar surveillance balloons had been spotted in U.S. airspace before, and a top U.S. general said past incursions by Chinese balloons went undetected by the Pentagon.