Wshington, February 23: The US Department of Defense (DOD) has released a selfie image taken by an American pilot which shows the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down earlier this month.

The selfie, taken by the pilot of a U-2 spy plane, shows the shadow of the aircraft on the balloon and a clear image of the latter's payload as it crossed across the continental US, CNN reported. Chinese 'Spy' Balloon Row: Three Aerial Objects US Shot Down Were Not Likely To Be Surveillance Devices From China, Says President Joe Biden.

The suspected spy balloon, which was first spotted by the US on January 28, was shot down on February 4 by an American F-22 fighter jet. The officials waited until the "strange object" was safely over water before shooting it down. The balloon was retrieved off the coast of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina on February 5.

A senior State Department official said earlier this month that fly-bys "revealed that the high-altitude balloon was capable of conducting signals intelligence collection operations".

The image, which was released on Wednesday was taken the day before the balloon the shot down, has reportedly "gained legendary status" inside the Pentagon, reports the BBC. Chinese Spy Balloon: Taiwan Says It Has Not Spotted Any Chinese Surveillance Balloons Amid China-US Dispute Over Spy Balloons.

The balloon was said to be hovering at 60,000 fee in the air. U-2 spy planes routinely fly at altitudes over 70,000 feet, according to the Air Force. The single-seater reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, nicknamed the Dragon Lady, were previously flown by the CIA.

Pilots are required to wear full pressure suits similar to those worn by astronauts. Recovery efforts for the balloon's scattered remnants in the Atlantic Ocean ended on February 17.

Pieces of the debris were transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory in Virginia to be studied further, reports CNN. Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said in a briefing on Wednesday that the payload of the balloon had been recovered.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Feb 23, 2023 09:19 AM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website