The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on April 17, 2001 · Page 5
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 5

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Tuesday, April 17, 2001
Page 5
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THE SALINA JOURNAI US.-CHINA CRISIS TUESDAY. APRIL 17, 2001 AB Spy plane crew had lighter moments But after collision with Chinese plane, crew faced tense moments By The Associated Press While detained on China's Hainan island, the 24 spy plane crew members played cards, acted out skits based on television shows and even taught a guard words to the song "Hotel California." "They got quite a few laughs," Lt. Patrick Honeck said of the skits. "We did a 'People's Court' spoof, news like on 'Saturday Night Live' and one of 'The Crocodile Hunter.' " He said guards who understood English laughed. In between the lighter moments, they were subjected to hours of interrogation. Sunday was the crew's first full day back home at the Whid- bey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state, and several crew members gave their fullest account yet of their experiences. In the seconds after their plane was bumped by a Chinese fighter on April 1, crew members said, they feared they would have to bail out with parachutes or crash land in the South China Sea. Many were certain they would die. The fighter pilot buzzed the Atnerican EP-3E several times before clipping the turboprop's No. 1 propeller, knocking it out of operation and knocking off the plane's nose cone. "After his first two runs at us, it got kind of surreal, like slow motion," Honeck told The New York Times in Monday's editions. He recalled the Chinese pilot saluted on his first pass, and "mouthed something to us" on the second. On the third approach, the Chinese fighter collided with the American plane, causing it to plummet from 22,500 feet. The fighter broke in half and crashed into the sea, presumably killing the pilot. "The first thing I thought of was, 'Oh, my God,' " said Aviation Machinist's Mate Second Class Wendy Westbrook, the navigator. "All I could see was blue water." "I didn't think we were going to make it," Lt. j.g. Jeffrey Vignery told The Washington Post. "I said another prayer at that time, just in case I didn't get it right the first time." He said that when mission commander Lt. Shane Osborn ordered the crew to put on parachutes, he thought that "obviously some of us wouldn't have time to bail out." Bailout order canceled As the plane leveled out, Osborn canceled the bailout order and told the crew to prepare to ditch at sea. But Osborn regained enough control and Honeck studied maps to see where they might land. The plane's base at Okinawa, Japan, was too far, as was the Philippines. They chose Hainan even without permission from the Chinese to land. As they headed for the island, the crew began destroying sensitive equipment. Crew BRIEFLY members declined to discuss what they did or whether they completed the tasks. After they landed, Osborn said, a small group of armed Chinese military, including an interpreter, approached. "He told us not to move and don't do anything," Osborn told the Times. "I asked if I could use a phone to call the U.S. ambassador to let him know we were safe on deck, but he said they had already taken care of that. Then they told us to get off the plane and they were pretty adamant about it. We dropped a ladder, and I got off first." "It wasn't a time to make a stand. We were unarmed. They're armed. So they have the advantage," Osborn said Sunday on ABC-TV's "This Week." The Americans were taken to a barracks. "Their best barracks," Osborn said. "But by American standards, they were poor. Lots and lots of bugs and mosquitoes. But it was livable." After two nights, they were moved to a nearby base lodge. Aside from meals, they were segregated from other residents. Interrogations were conducted at various times, often in the middle of the night and sometimes as long as five hours. Crew didn't like fish heads The food varied. "It was Chinese food but definitely not Americanized," Vignery said. They were served fish heads "until they realized we weren't U.S. to press for return of spy plane WASHINGTON — American negotiators will press for prompt return of a detained Navy surveillance plane when they meet with Chinese officials Wednesday in Beijing. On the eve of the talks, the Bush administration ventured no prediction on the outcome. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday the Chinese government had advised the talks would be "nonpolemical," meaning businesslike and not marked by harsh rhetoric. The U.S. delegation will insist on prompt return of the plane and also talk to the Chinese about ways to avert further collisions, Boucher said. The EP-3E aircraft was seized by Chinese authorities after an emergency landing April 1 on Hainan island in southern China. The crew was released last week after protracted negotiations. There have been no U.S. surveillance flights since, but White House and State Department officials said they would be resumed at some point. President Bush is awaiting a recom­ mendation from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the flights. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday China wants to keep trading with U.S. WASHINGTON — China is eager to keep tensions with the United States over the spy plane incident separate from trade relations between the two countries. Trade ministry spokesman Gao Yan was quoted by the government-run China News Service as saying "China doesn't wish to fight a trade war with any country." Meetings with China over the airplane incident are to start Wednesday, with many expecting the Bush administration will take a hard line. Chinese are paying homage to lost pilot BEIJING — Chinese citizens are visiting a Web site that honors a fighter pilot lost in a collision with a U.S. spy plane, leaving words of condolence, lighting an online "candle" and making virtual offerings of flowers, wine and incense. President Jiang Zemin Monday declared the lost pilot, Wang Wei, a "Guardian of the Air and Sea," and called on the Chinese to emulate his dedication to the communist state. The Chinese government also reiterated its claim the unarmed U.S. Navy EP-3E surveillance plane caused the April 1 crash by ramming Wang's plane. Beijing appeared ready to push that claim in talks with U.S. officials Wednesday Already declared a "revolutionary martyr," Wang was described by Jiang as an "outstanding representative of the new generation of revolutionary soldiers," the government's Chinese Central Television reported. 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Yamaha Clavinova Truckload Sale! 825-6273 / South St. & Clark, Salina /1-800-875-6273 Digital Pianos Starting at $1,595 • Choose from Rosewood -Mahogany - Maple finish • 6 months same as cash* • No payment for 6 months* • Free Delivery hi a 50 mile radius • Free Church TWal *WA.C. The Associated Press U.S. Navy EP-3E surveillance plane crew members (from left) Lt. Patrick Honeck, Aviation IMa- chinist 2nd Class Wendy Westbrook and Lt. Q.g.) Jeffery Vignery field questions during Sunday's news conference at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station near Oak Harbor, Wash. into fish heads." Vignery said the crew played cards and read a few English- language Chinese newspapers they were given. They learned little about the tense diplomatic standoff surrounding their detention. One guard, Honeck said, "wanted to know the lyrics to an American song he heard, 'Hotel California,' by the Eagles." 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