US releases photo of Chinese 'spy balloon' taken by pilot before it was shot down

The US government has released a photo of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon taken from the cockpit of an American spy plane before the device was shot down.

Taken by the pilot of the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft on 3 February, the plane's shadow can be seen on the large white balloon that is carrying a satellite over Montana in the central United States.

First spotted by the US on 28 January, its military eventually shot the balloon down on 4 February off the coast of South Carolina on the orders of President Joe Biden after it had crossed the country.

It reportedly flew over a number of sensitive military sites before that.

Crews have been able to recover significant amounts of debris from where the balloon landed after it was shot down, including "all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure".

The US Defense Department released the image on Wednesday after shooting down the suspected Chinese spy balloon and three other unidentified objects in as many days.

The White House ruled out any connection to extraterrestrial activity following public speculation about aliens and outer space.

Pentagon officials said they believe there is no peacetime precedent of shooting down spy balloons.

The incidents have seen simmering tensions between the United States and China boil over, with Beijing denying it uses spy balloons and saying the craft was for weather research.

China then accused Washington of sending its own espionage balloons over its territory, which the US denied.

Read more:
A timeline of what and where fighter jets have shot down unidentified aircraft so far this month
What are spy balloons and why could they play a key role in the future of aerial reconnaissance?

Following the four incidents, US secretary of state Antony Blinken cancelled a planned visit to China as relations plummeted.

He then met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of a global security conference in Munich hours after Mr Wang accused Washington of being "hysterical" over the balloon debacle.

Click to subscribe to the Sky News Daily wherever you get your podcasts

Mr Yang told a gathering of world leaders President Biden's administration had a "misguided" perception of Beijing.

And he accused the US of trying to "smear" China to "divert attention from its own domestic problems".