US Spy Plane Crew Comes Home To A Hero's Welcome
|Cryptologic Technician 2nd Class Josef Edmonds
from Davis, Calif., is welcomed home by his children upon his
arrival at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Wash. Following stop
overs in Guam and Hawaii, crewmembers of the U.S. Navy EP-3 ARIES
II aircraft involved in the Mar. 31 accident with a Chinese F-8
aircraft were welcomed home after being detained in China for
eleven days after the Navy plane made an emergency landing at
Lingsui Air Base on Hainan Island, China. (U.S Navy photo by Photographer's
Mate 2nd class Michael B. W. Watkins)
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OAK HARBOR, Washington, April 15 (AFP) - The cloudy
skies had cleared when the DC-9 carrying the 24-member crew of the US spy
plane circled Whidbey Island Naval Air Station before touching down.
The crew returned home to a hero's welcome Saturday after 11 days
detention in China, hailed by family and thousands of well-wishers as
heroes for performing their duty under life-threatening pressure.
Thunderous applause greeted the "Whidbey 24," dressed in khaki
flight suits, as each appeared in the plane's doorway, saluted Navy
officials and rushed into the arms of teary-eyed wives, children, husbands
Lieutenant Shane Osborn and his crew then marched
along a red carpet into cavernous Hangar Six of Ault Field, waving US
flags to thunderous applause from those present.
friends lined the tarmac, waving floral bouquets and home-made signs
reading "Welcome home, heroes!" after the plane touched down at 3:57 pm
At the podium, dignitaries including Washington State
Governor Gary Locke and US Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were
dwarfed by a giant American flag at the end of the hangar.
Americans, thank you for your unwavering support!" Northwest Regional Navy
Commander Rear Admiral Vincent Smith said before some 5,000 flag-waving
Osborn was singled out for praise by his crew, who said he
successfully stabilized the damaged plane as it plummeted towards the
South China Sea, after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet.
credit him with saving the lives of his crew," said Base Reconnaissance
Commander Rear Admiral Michael Holmes.
"I'd like to thank God for
allowing myself and my crew to be here," Osborn said, "because it was
definitely Him flying that plane."
An emotional Osborn thanked
Americans for their "overwhelming" support through the ordeal.
didn't know for while if anyone knew, other than the top officials," he
said. "It just confirms what we all believe: the spirit is still strong in
the United States of America."
Locke said the 21 men and three
women had performed "a near-miracle" in saving the crippled US Navy EP-3
Aries surveillance plane and destroying the sensitive equipment and
material on board.
The Democratic governor also praised the
administration of President George W. Bush for resolving the standoff.
"As Americans we can look at this as a crisis averted and say that
our government rose to the occasion and succeeded," Locke said, calling
the episode "a model for the peaceful resolution of future challenges."
This rural island of tree-covered hills and narrow pastures set in
the heart of Puget Sound lived through every tense moment of the standoff
that began on April 1, when the EP-3 collided with the Chinese fighter.
Ties between military and civilians here run deep: military
personnel account for 7,000 of the island's population of 62,000.
For days, now the streets of Whidbey Island's closely knit
communities have been bedecked with Stars and Stripes flags, yellow
ribbons and balloons and welcoming banners.
ribbons also sprouted from every available street light, tree and fence
Despite damage to its navigating equipment, the lumbering
EP-3 made it to Lingshui Airport on China's Hainan island. The Chinese jet
hurtled into the sea, presumably killing the Chinese pilot.
standoff was defused late last week when the United States presented China
with a letter saying it was "very sorry" for the loss of the Chinese pilot
and for the US plane making an emergency landing without permission.
A Newsweek poll Saturday showed that 69-percent of Americans
approve of President Bush's handling of the standoff with China.
Most attending Saturday's rally had no doubt who the good guys
"I root for the home team," said Tina Judd, 32.
officials here tried to keep the festivities low-key, hoping to get crew
members back to normal routines as quickly as possible. No member of the
administration attended, and there were no parades -- not yet anyway.
But Oak Harbor will honor its local heroes -- they will have their
own float in the town's annual Holland Happening parade on April 28.
And in a move that has raised some eyebrows in this community with
conservative Dutch roots, the town has accepted an offer from the Dallas
Cowboy cheerleaders of the National Football League to dance in the parade
in the crew's honor.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Agence
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