US releases pilot’s close-up photo of Chinese balloon

A US Air Force U-2 pilot had a close encounter with a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon.

A US Air Force U-2 pilot had a close encounter with a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon. Photo: US Defence Department

A US U-2 pilot flying high above the Chinese spy balloon took a close-up photo of the large white orb just a day before the air force shot it down off the South Carolina coast.

The photo shows the top of the pilot’s helmet inside the U-2 cockpit with the balloon flying below.

It was taken on February 3 as the balloon “hovered over the Central Continental United States”, according to the caption provided by the US Defence Department.

The Pentagon released the image on Wednesday (local time), more than two weeks after the balloon made international headlines as it transited the US.

The balloon was downed on February 4 by an F-22 fighter jet firing an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.

The strike took place once the balloon was no longer over land but was still within US territorial waters.

The U-2 Dragon Lady is a high-altitude US spy plane that has been in service since the 1950s.

The Pentagon said on Friday that navy ships and submersibles had completed recovery of the massive balloon and its payload, which fell in pieces into the Atlantic Ocean.

The payload was recovered from the ocean floor and was being analysed by the FBI, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said on Wednesday.

The downing led to three other smaller objects also being shot down by air force jets within a period of eight days – one over Alaska, one over Canada and one over Lake Huron.

Searches for the Alaska and Lake Huron objects have ended.


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