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Family, Friends Fearful, Frustrated As They Await Word On Spy Plane's Crew

WHIDBEY ISLAND NAS, Wash. (April 3) -- Family and friends of the 24 American spy plane crew members confined at a Chinese military base expressed fear and frustration as they awaited word on when their loved ones would be freed.

About 1,000 yellow ribbons fluttered from branches and fence posts Wednesday at the base where 14 of the plane's crew live.

``The spouses that I spoke to were of course frightened, they were concerned for the well-being of their loved ones and they were very, very, angry,'' said Capt. William Marriott, commander of Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 10 at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, about 50 miles north of Seattle.

The damaged aircraft was forced to land Sunday on Hainan island after a collision with a Chinese warplane. U.S. Embassy officials met Tuesday with the 21 men and three women and said they were in good health, but there was no word on when they would be allowed to leave the island.

Friends of 21-year-old Brandon Funk, a Navy Cryptologic Technician Interpretive 2nd Class, were overcome with emotion as they met at a popular restaurant in his home town of Show Low, Ariz.

``There were a couple girls that came in here, friends of his, and they just started crying at the table about this,'' Gerri Deublein - owner of the Branding Iron Steak House in the mountain town about 175 miles northeast of Phoenix - told The Arizona Republic. ``It frightens all of us to have him so far away in so uncertain a situation.''

``We're all upset and just want him to come home soon,'' said his mother, Carly Funk told the newspaper.

In Charlotte, N.C., neighbors of Robert and Sandy Blocher went out in the rain to tie yellow ribbons around trees after the couple received word that their son, Steven, was among the crew.

``I'd like to be a fly on the wall or at least be there with him to find out exactly how he is feeling right now, and how he his doing,'' Robert Blocher said.

China maintains the crew is being held in ``protective custody'' and that the United States should apologize for the incident that landed them in China, though China's foreign minister said Wednesday that China hoped to resolve the issue quickly.

The White House has ruled out any apology. President Bush warned Tuesday that ties with Beijing could suffer unless it quickly releases the EP-3E plane.

``We are not at war, therefore we don't understand why we don't have access to our crew members,'' said Marriott. ``The prompt and safe return of them is our absolute number one priority, followed closely behind by getting that airplane ready to fly and getting it back.''

Amanda De Jesus of Long Beach, Calif., the mother of Cryptologic Technician Interpretive 1st Class Josef Edmunds of Davis, Calif., told ABC's ``Good Morning America'' she thinks Bush should apologize.

``I don't think we bear any real blame, at least from my understanding of the facts. But they've got the bodies of 24 of the United States' most precious resources,'' De Jesus said. ``I would say what they want us to say.''

Chinese officials refused to allow the American officials to meet alone with the crew members and have not allowed them to contact their families in the United States.

``We'd like to get to say to (the Chinese government), 'Let her go,''' said Benjamin Sonon, brother of Lt. Marcia S. Sonon. ``But there's really not much we can say.''

Sonon's mother relied on the support of friends and neighbors in Lenharstville, Pa., about 60 northwest of Philadelphia.

``I hope she's OK,'' Fern Sonon said. ``She's probably thinking of us.''

Marcia Sonon had dreamed of joining the Navy and flying since childhood.

``That was her dream, to fly,'' said Fern Sonon. ``But we didn't expect this. I don't think she expected it either.''

Robert Blocher said his son, a 24-year-old Aviation Electrician's Mate 3rd Class, told him when they last talked that the assignment on the spy plane was more dangerous than he first thought.

``His biggest fear was being taken hostage,'' Robert Blocher said.

Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class David Cecka, 28, was due back at Whidbey in early June, said his father, Mike Cecka, town administrator in Cle Elum, Wash., about 70 miles east of Seattle. Mike Cecka said he was relieved to hear the crew was safe.

``That takes away the immediate concern of well-being,'' he said. ``From there it's a matter of working out the process of getting them home.''

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