The Defense Department has released a new photo showing an Air Force pilot flying above the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down over U.S. territory this month.
In the photo, dated Feb. 3, the pilot looks down at the surveillance balloon from the cockpit of a U-2 spy plane as the object hovers over the central continental U.S.
The Defense Department did not identify the pilot in the selfie. Its authenticity was confirmed at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday.
Addressing reporters at the briefing, deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said search operations to recover sensors and other debris from the balloon, which a missile shot down Feb. 4 off South Carolina, had concluded last week.
Singh said, “The majority of the balloon, including the payload, was recovered.” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said at a recent news briefing that the recovered material was at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. “It’s quite a bit — it’s a significant amount — including the payload structure, as well as some of the electronics and the optics,” he said.
China says that the balloon was an unstaffed civilian airship used for meteorological research that strayed off course and that shooting it down was an overreaction and a violation of international norms. Beijing has accused Washington of escalating the dispute.
Officials said they had called off the search for debris from three other unidentified aerial objects that were shot down this month over hard-to-reach areas in Alaska and Canada and in Lake Huron.
Kirby said last week that there was no indication the objects were related to China’s surveillance balloon program and that the U.S. intelligence community was considering whether they had “some commercial or benign purpose.”
NBC News first reported the existence of the suspected Chinese spy balloon on Feb. 2.
Jennifer Jett contributed.