U.S. Air Force General Glen VanHerck told reporters Monday that the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down last weekend was hundreds of feet in diameter.
“The balloon assessment was up to 200 feet tall [and] it weighed a couple thousand pounds,” said VanHerck, the commander for North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command, in a call with several reporters. He added that the balloon was potentially carrying explosives but had no evidence of it either, noting that there was a device hanging from the bottom that was about the size of a small jet.
That risk, however, was a factor in his planning to shoot down the balloon over open water, he said, according to Reuters. Possible explosives could have been on board “to detonate and destroy the balloon,” the general told reporters.
After the balloon was located over Montana last Wednesday, there were calls to shoot it down. It wasn’t until Saturday that the object was downed by the U.S. military.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) confirmed the balloon was of Chinese origin but claimed it was a “civilian airship” meant to monitor weather patterns. U.S. officials, however, say that it was a Chinese military spycraft.
“We took maximum precaution to prevent any intel collection,” he said. “It was my assessment that this balloon did not present a physical military threat to North America,” VanHerck said, according to reports. “This is under my NORAD hat, and therefore I could not take immediate action [against the balloon] because it was not demonstrating hostile act or hostile intent.”
VanHerck said debris had been collected from an area roughly 1,500 meters (4,920 feet) by 1,500 meters and a number of military vessels were helping gather it.
U.S. intelligence determined the previous flights after the fact based on “additional means of collection” of intelligence without offering further details on whether that might be cyber espionage, telephone intercepts, or human sources, the general said.
Earlier Monday, a White House adviser confirmed that officials recovered some of the balloon’s debris off the East Coast. The object was shot down by an F-22 Raptor on Saturday afternoon near the coasts of North and South Carolina, the Pentagon confirmed.