(NewsNation) — Navy divers are working to recover pieces of a Chinese balloon shot down off the coast as officials warn people not to touch any debris that may wash ashore.
The suspected spy balloon first entered U.S. airspace on Jan. 28. It was acknowledged by government officials Thursday, a day after commercial flights were temporarily halted at the airport in Billings, Montana, where people on the ground saw the balloon seemingly loitering high above the city.
There were more sightings of the balloon as it made its way across the Midwest and into the southeast before it was shot down off the South Carolina coast.
About 2:39 p.m. EST on Saturday, an F-22 fighter jet fired a missile at the balloon, puncturing it while it was about 6 nautical miles off the coast near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, senior defense officials said.
The debris landed in 47 feet of water, shallower than officials had expected, and it spread out over roughly seven miles and the recovery operation included several ships. The officials estimated the recovery efforts would be completed in a short time, not weeks. A salvage vessel was en route.
Navy divers arrived not long after the balloon was shot down and began working to recover pieces of it.
Officials are warning those on the North and South Carolina coasts they should not touch any debris that washes ashore and should instead report it to local authorities.
Chinese authorities claim the balloon was not being used to spy and was a meteorological instrument. U.S. officials have rejected that claim. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to travel to China on Friday but canceled his trip due to the incident.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.