U.S. Crew Members Return to
|A member from the crew of the United States
EP-3 aircraft involved in an accident with a Chinese F-8 aircraft
arrives at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. He is greeted by Adm.
Tom Fellin, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Marianas, on April 12,
2001. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Blair A. McClellan)
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HONOLULU (AP) -- Leaving their damaged spy plane on
a Chinese island, 24 U.S. crew members landed in Hawaii on Thursday to
cheers and to face two long days of debriefing before planned weekend
reunions with families and friends.
"We're definitely glad to be
back," said Lt. Shane Osborne, spy mission commander, in a short
statement to officials and military families.
He said all crew
members were healthy and eager to get on with the last stage in their
mission: 26 hours of debriefings.
"On behalf of Combat
Reconnaissance Crew 1, I'd like to thank you once again, and God bless
America," he said, holding an American flag.
"A proud Navy
day," read a banner welcoming the crew freed 12 days after their
surveillance plane collided with a Chinese jet over the South China Sea.
Hawaii's four members of Congress and other officials welcomed the crew,
along with local military families, after an overnight flight from Guam
aboard a military transport jet.
The crew faced 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
sessions to go over their ordeal, with an additional 14 hours on Friday.
They were to return to their home base and a warmer welcoming celebration
planned for Saturday at Whidbey Island, Wash., their home base.
The crew's long flight home ended a 12-day diplomatic standoff,
with American officials resisting the Chinese demand for an apology went
from expressions of "regret" to the word "sorry" during the weekend.
Finally, a letter delivered to Chinese officials Wednesday said the United
States was "very sorry" for the Chinese pilot's death and for the U.S.
plane's landing in China without permission.
Cheers went up as
Osborn stepped off the plane, followed by the 20 other men and three
women, all in uniform. A line of military and civilian officials shook
There were also cheers during a stopover early
Thursday at Andersen Air Force Base on the U.S. territory of Guam -- the
crew's first contact with American soil. Some of the freed crew members
leaned out bus windows to shake hands with onlookers before being driven
away for a meal, showers and telephone calls to relatives.
gave me goosebumps. I just wanted to say, 'Welcome back. You guys are
heroes,"' said Guam Gov. Carl Gutierrez.
In a telephone call to
his mother, Osborn said the crew struggled to land the crippled Navy EP-3E
surveillance plane safely after the two aircraft collided.
said it took every bit of strength that he had. All the crew helped,"
Diane Osborn of Norfolk, Neb., told MSNBC. "He was well trained by the
Navy and I thank God he gave him the strength to get it down."
One of the chartered plane's pilots told NBC News that according
to Osborn, the crew had considered jumping off the spy plane following the
In Guam, the crew wore freshly pressed beige uniforms
after emotional phone calls to relatives and an American meal of meat and
potatoes, with optional rice.
A few hours later, the crew's C-17
Globemaster "Spirit of Bob Hope" left for Honolulu.
United States, relieved relatives and friends watched television
broadcasts showing the crew leaving China and arriving in Guam.
Mary Mercado, wife of aviation electronics technician Ramon
Mercado, said her "heart was racing" as the plane took off from China's
Hainan Island, where the 24 Americans had been detained since April 1.
"I've had butterflies in my stomach since this morning," she
said from Oak Harbor, Wash. "We're just happy they're alive and coming
The crew had been held since the collision, which
shattered the tail fin of the Chinese fighter and sent it spiraling out of
control, Chinese state media said. The pilot, Wang Wei, is missing and
The letter delivered Wednesday to the Chinese
Foreign Ministry and later released by the White House said Washington is
"very sorry the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have
"Please convey to the Chinese people and to
the family of pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss," the
It also expressed appreciation for "China's efforts
to see to the well-being" of the U.S. crew.
Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said Thursday that Beijing still held the
United States entirely responsible for the collision and was keeping the
spy plane for investigation. The two sides agreed to resume talks on the
plane next Wednesday.
"We hope that the U.S. side will adopt a
serious attitude toward China's standpoint on the incident and handle it
properly," Chinese President Jiang Zemin said while in Brazil on a 12-day
tour of Latin America, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
Chinese officials have denounced U.S. surveillance flights as a
violation of national sovereignty, but U.S. officials responded that there
were no plans to end the practice of flying spy planes in international
airspace near China.
American officials assume Chinese experts
have stripped the craft of its sophisticated surveillance equipment.
Satellite photos showed trucks lined up next to the plane on the tarmac of
the Chinese air base in Lingshui. The Pentagon has said the crew destroyed
as much of the top-secret codes and intelligence as they could before the
Chinese came aboard.
The Cold War-style dispute inflamed tensions
over an expected U.S. decision this month on arms sales to Taiwan, which
China claims as its territory; the detention in China of several
U.S.-based scholars; and the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in
Belgrade, for which American officials apologized unconditionally.
Despite their differences, the two countries are bound by hundreds
of billions of dollars in trade. China wants U.S. support to join the
World Trade Organization this year and to win its bid to host the 2008
Olympics. Officials on both sides said they want to make sure the incident
doesn't damage long-term relations.
2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.