'Priority sensor and electronics' found in Chinese spy balloon wreckage, US military says

Sailors prepare material recovered from the shooting down of a Chinese high-altitude balloon, to send to the FBI Credit: AP

Key sensors and electronics have been recovered from the wreckage of the Chinese spy balloon shot down off South Carolina's coast, the US military says.

A “significant” portion of the wreckage of the balloon has been recovered in about 50 feet of water off the coast, according to a US defence official.

A salvage ship carrying a crane arrived in the area on Friday and began extracting debris from the sea floor. This includes items the balloon had been carrying and electronics, CNN reports.

This comes as the US Air Force shot down four aircraft flying over North America in the space of just 10 days.

One was a balloon but very little is known about the other three.

The payload carried by the balloon weighed approximately 2,000 pounds and was the size of three school buses.

The original balloon was recovered off the coast. Credit: AP

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On Monday, the US military said it had recovered critical electronics from the suspected Chinese spy balloon, including sensors.

The US military's Northern Command said in a statement: "Crews have been able to recover significant debris from the site, including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure."

Sailors in Carolina prepared material recovered in the Atlantic Ocean and the sensitive components will be handed over to the FBI at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, for further investigation, according to a US official, CNN reports.

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said on Monday that crews have collected “a fair amount of debris” from the Chinese surveillance balloon. It was shot down on February 4.

The White House did not put a timeline on further recovery efforts, especially as the weather conditions have limited the ability of Navy divers to get in the water.

“It could take a long time, given the sea state and weather conditions and the degree to which we have to protect the safety of the divers,” John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said on Monday. 

The Chinese balloon found over the US was destroyed on February 4. Credit: AP

Since the balloon was shot down on February 4, three more aircraft have been destroyed by the US Air Force.

The first on February 10 was shot down over Alaska, the second on February 11 was shot down over Canada (with Canadian permission) and the third was destroyed on February 12 over Lake Huron in Michigan.

All three were smaller than the first balloon and flying at much lower altitudes - the first was flying at 40,000 feet within range of civilian aircraft.

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Kirby said the object was about the size of a car, which was smaller than the Chinese balloon that was described as the size of three school buses.

The White House was keen it was not yet known who owned the object, and he did not say that it was a balloon.

Officials also could not say if there was any surveillance equipment on it and didn't know where it came from or what its purpose was.

A similar story played out for the two subsequent shooting downs, airspace was closed, a US fighter was deployed and the object was destroyed.

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Pentagon officials said they were still trying to determine what exactly the three objects were and said they had considered using the jets’ guns instead of missiles, but it proved to be too difficult.

"We're calling them objects, not balloons, for a reason," said Gen VanHerck.

The limited information has lead to wild speculation that the objects were alien UFOs.

The Whitehouse has since tried to shutdown these rumours, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying: “I know there's been questions and concerns about this, but there is no — again, no — indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity.”