The US claims to have recovered key electronics, including sensors, from the suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down earlier this month.
“Crews have recovered significant debris from the site, including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure,” the United States military’s Northern Command said in a statement Monday, according to Reuters.
NBC News has contacted the Pentagon for more information.
The balloon spent days flying over the United States and Canada before being shot down by President Joe Biden on February 4 off the coast of South Carolina, sparking a search for a debris field that stretched for about 1,500 square metres, or about 15 football fields by 15 football fields.
China has maintained that the errant airship was a civilian airship conducting meteorological research, but the incident has strained relations between the world’s two largest economies.
Since then, the US has shot down three more objects over North America, the most recent being on Sunday over Lake Huron. It was unclear whether those objects, which were much lower in altitude and much smaller in size, were connected to China or the earlier balloon.
The mystery has piqued the public’s interest as well as lawmakers’ frustration, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin telling reporters on Monday that crews had yet to recover any debris from the three most recent incidents.
The White House announced a new interagency team to study these objects on Monday, saying they did not pose any threats to people on the ground, did not send any communication signals, and had no manoeuvrability or propulsion capabilities.
The US military has been using a broader range of radar data to monitor North American airspace, looking deeper at more objects that were previously filtered out, according to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby at the briefing.
While US officials have refused to draw any conclusions, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated at a news conference on Monday that “there is some sort of pattern in there.”
The recovery of the first downed balloon’s electronics came after Beijing accused the US of flying high-altitude balloons over its airspace without permission more than ten times since early last year.
“It is not uncommon for US balloons to enter other countries’ airspace illegally,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin during a regular news briefing Monday.
“Instead of smearing other countries, the United States should first reflect on itself and change course,” he added.
Kirby denied the allegation on Monday. “We’re not flying surveillance balloons over China,” he explained.
The discovery of the Chinese surveillance balloon forced Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Beijing to be cancelled at the last minute, and it was unclear whether or not it would be rescheduled.
“We remain open to conversation, discussion, and rescheduling our trip to Beijing when conditions are appropriate,” said Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman at a news conference on Monday.
Meanwhile, according to The Paper, a Chinese news outlet, China has been monitoring an unknown flying object in its own territory.
According to a report published on Sunday, maritime authorities in the eastern province of Shandong informed local fishermen that they were preparing to shoot down the object, which was discovered over waters near the coastal city of Rizhao.
The report provided no information about the object, such as where officials believe it originated, and Wang did not respond to a reporter’s question about it.