The United States Navy is working to recover the debris of a Chinese surveillance balloon that fell into the Atlantic Ocean after being shot down off the coast of South Carolina over the weekend.
The balloon, which had been flying at high altitude over North America since the end of January, was shot down in US airspace and fell into US territorial waters, said General Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command.
“Our U.S. Navy component is currently conducting recovery operations, with the U.S. Coast Guard assisting in securing the area and maintaining public safety,” VanHerck said in a statement on Sunday.
The US said earlier that the balloon was about the size of three school buses and that debris was spread out over 11km (7 miles) of ocean.
The incident has further strained relations between the US and China with Washington cancelling Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to Beijing after the discovery of the craft.
Beijing has said the uncrewed “airship” was used for meteorological research and was blown off course because of bad weather and its “limited” steering capabilities.
On Monday, Beijing urged the US to exercise restraint over the incident. It insists the balloon, which was flying at a height of about 18,300 metres (60,000 ft) before it was shot down, entered US airspace by accident.
“China firmly opposes and strongly protests against this,” China’s Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said in remarks to the US embassy in China. “The Chinese government is closely following the development of the situation.”
Senior Colonel Tan Kefei, a spokesperson at China’s Ministry of National Defence, said on Sunday that China reserved the right to take necessary measures in dealing with similar situations describing the US action as an “overreaction”.