MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — The U.S. military released new photos Tuesday showing Navy sailors assigned to the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 recovering the scattered wreckage of the Chinese balloon that was shot down off of the Myrtle Beach coast on Saturday.
The USS Carter Hall is on site and has been collecting debris since it arrived, though sea states on Sunday limited what crews could do because of safety concerns, according to Gen. Glen VanHerck with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
“We continue to focus on safe execution of a recovery,” VanHerck said in an off-camera, on-the-record briefing.
VanHerck confirmed that crews were recovering debris Monday after video showed what appeared to be debris from the balloon on boats at a local Myrtle Beach landing.
Concerns about glass from the solar panels and any hazardous materials from anything battery-operated along with the potential for explosives led to the decision not to shoot the balloon down over land, VanHerck said.
VanHerck said he can’t confirm that there were any explosives on the balloon, but any time there’s an operation of this nature, officials assume there are explosives as a safety precaution for all involved.
“This balloon did not present a physical military threat to North America — this is under my NORAD hat — and therefore, I could not take immediate action because it was not demonstrating hostile act or hostile intent,” VanHerck said.
VanHerck said the debris field from the balloon is about 1,500 meters by 1,500 meters. He said when it was learned that the debris field could be up to 6 or 7 miles, the decision was made to not shoot the balloon down until it was 6 miles off the coast “so that no debris would go back over the coast.”
“There was debris that expanded out further,” VanHerck said. “We have collected a majority of that debris that fell in the ocean and other places. Now what we’re talking about is really that superstructure below that fell down and limited itself to this 1,500 meter by 1,500 meter box that we’re talking about.”
VanHerck said it’s not yet known the condition of the debris or how many pieces there were. He compared the size of the balloon to a regional jet.
The FBI is also assisting in debris recovery, and VanHerck said he doesn’t know the final location where the debris will be taken for analysis.
He added that due to ocean currents, it’s possible debris could wash up on shore. He urged anyone who finds any debris to call local law enforcement and to not touch or move the debris.
VanHerck thanked the FAA for its assistance in temporarily closing down airports in the area, including Myrtle Beach International Airport.