Last week, a Chinese spy balloon appeared 60,000 feet above the ground in Montana. The balloon gave all the appearance of being a spying aircraft.
China’s foreign ministry insisted that the balloon was not meant for spying and surveillance but rather for meteorological observation. Chinese officials called it a “civilian airship” that had strayed far from its original course. The Pentagon rejected China’s explanation, much to the consternation of its Chinese counterparts, though U.S. Defense Department officials took care to say they believed the intelligence-gathering capabilities of the balloon were limited. Washington freaked out. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a long-planned trip to China amid the fuss over the balloon. A second balloon appeared over Latin America in later days, which China admitted belonged to its government as well.
The not-a-spy balloon measured some 200 feet tall and carried a payload estimated to be the width of three buses. Navy jets shot down the balloon off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Saturday and retrieved it from the same waters the next day. Some of the balloon’s payload sank and was retrieved by divers and underwater drones. The balloon had been equipped with self-destruction explosives, according to Navy officials, though none were found during the recovery. There are no plans to return the aircraft’s parts to China.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Navy released dramatic pictures of sailors retrieving the balloon from the ocean. Click through to see how the mission went down.