(CBS)If the balloon was brought down over land, the debris could have covered a 20-mile-by-20-mile space, said Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, the director for operations of the Joint Staff.
"Although Alaska is in places not as inhabited as other places, it is inhabited. … And without being able to clear that — we wouldn't do that in combat," Sims told senators.
"We think before we shoot. And in this case, we thought before we shot," Sims said later. "Once you shoot, you can't take it back."
The U.S. is continuing to collect debris from the ocean nearly a week after the balloon was shot down. Senior FBI officials familiar with the operation said bad weather could extend the collection process. The Navy has weighted down debris still on the ocean floor to prevent it from being moved by the rough seas, a U.S. official said.
A U.S. official said underwater pictures of the debris field show the wreckage remarkably intact given its fall from 60,000 feet.