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Chinese spy payload located off coast of SC by US military

Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recover a high-altitude surveillance balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Feb. 5, 2023. (U.S. Fleet Forces)
February 10, 2023

The payload of surveillance equipment carried by the Chinese spy balloon has been located off the coast of South Carolina, where jet fighters shot down the balloon after it flew across the U.S. last week.

U.S. officials said the payload was found largely intact, but has not been recovered from the water yet, ABC News reported.

The officials said it will likely be raised from the water with a crane or winch on a vessel, with one official saying the payload is at least 30 feet long. Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck previously told reporters the payload likely weighed “in excess of a couple thousand pounds” and was about the size of a regional jet airliner.

The first images of balloon material being recovered from the water were released on Tuesday. An official at the time said part of the payload had been located on the ocean floor, while a smaller portion was recovered from the surface.

Rough waters have suspended recovery operations until at least Monday, an official told ABC. Weights have been attached to the underwater debris to keep it from moving with the currents, and acoustic pinging devices will help locate the debris once recovery resumes next week, the official said.

The USS Carter Hall has been on-scene helping collect debris, while the USNS Pathfinder has been using sonar to map the debris field, which is “more than 15 football fields by 15 football fields” in size, VanHerck said.

The Carter Hall returned to the shore with what has been recovered so far, ABC reported. A contracted crane ship is waiting offshore for the salvage operation to resume.

The Chinese spy balloon’s days-long voyage across the U.S. brought it near nuclear missile silos in Montana and raised tensions between the superpowers to a new high. China claims it was a weather balloon blown off course and has suggested it wants the balloon to be returned.

Officials have described the balloon as part of a broader Chinese surveillance program that also flew balloons over the U.S. under the previous administration. 

The FBI on Thursday said the “extremely limited” amount of evidence recovered from the balloon so far has not been enough to determine what its capabilities were, Reuters reported.

This was a breaking news story. The details were periodically updated as more information became available.