Piece by piece the scattered elements of the downed Chinese spy balloon emerged from the ocean depths Tuesday, with U.S. Navy divers using sophisticated reconnaissance drones dubbed the Kingfish and the Swordfish to hasten the job.
The balloon debris is lying in waters some 50 feet deep but stretch across an area 15 football fields long and 15 football fields across.
It was retrieved even as an indignant China Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned, “The airship does not belong to the U.S. It belongs to China” and chided Washington for not being “professional” in its handling of the matter.
The Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 — a team deployed to handle IEDs, chemical and biological threats, and underwater mines — is tasked with the recovery operation.
U.S. Fleet Forces Command shared photos of the team pulling pieces of the balloon aboard its ship on Tuesday, UPI reports, with the issue providing a backdrop to U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address:
“At the direction of the President of the United States and with the full support of the Government of Canada, U.S. fighter aircraft under U.S. Northern Command authority engaged and brought down a high altitude surveillance balloon within sovereign U.S. airspace and over U.S. territorial waters Feb. 4, 2023,” U.S. Fleet Forces Command said on Facebook.
The Navy also deployed at least five ships — including the USS Carter Hall and USNS Pathfinder — to sweep the South Carolina coast for remnants of the balloon that travelled across the U.S. continent last week, NBC News reports.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III said the balloon was being used by the People’s Republic of China to survey U.S. “strategic sites”, posing an “undue risk.”
Voters appeared to agree with that assessment, seeing Chinese Communist statecraft not innocent weather observation, as they turned on the Biden administration for the tardiness of its response.
The majority of likely general election voters say that the Biden administration mishandled or should have handled sooner the Chinese spy balloon that traveled across the continental United States last week, a poll found. https://t.co/MTn7Qaa7yP
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) February 8, 2023
China has consistently denied the balloon was used for any insidious purpose, calling it a civilian aircraft.
When Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning was asked Tuesday which company owned the balloons that have been spotted over several countries and what kind of information they were collecting. She said she had nothing to add.
Mao was further asked if China approached Washington to return the debris.
“The airship does not belong to the U.S. It belongs to China,” she responded.
“The unmanned Chinese airship is of civilian nature. Its unintended entry into U.S. airspace is entirely unexpected and caused by force majeure. It didn’t pose any threat to any person or to the national security of the US,” Mao continued.
“The U.S. should have properly handled such incidents in a calm and professional manner not involving the use of force, yet they decided to do otherwise, which is a clear overreaction.”
The head of U.S. Northern Command, Gen. Glen VanHerck, who is in charge of the recovery effort, and several Biden administration officials will brief members of Congress on the balloon on Wednesday and Thursday.