U.S. Delegation Seeks Return of EP-3
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem and Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 17, 2001 The United States may have to disassemble the Navy EP-3 aircraft impounded in China to ship it back if mechanics cannot make it safe to fly.
"You don't need to make the plane perfect, you need to make the plane safe to fly," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said April 17. "An alternative might be to disassemble the plane … if it were beyond the ability to repair on the ground."
A U.S. delegation, led by Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Peter F. Verga, is in Beijing to negotiate with the Chinese for return of the EP-3. The plane was on an information- gathering flight in international airspace off the southern coast of China when a Chinese F-8 fighter hit one of the EP-3's propellers. The damaged Navy aircraft made an emergency landing on Hainan Island and was impounded by the Chinese. The fighter crashed; its pilot is missing and presumed dead.
Quigley said the incident was clearly the result of Chinese fighters' aggressive tactics. He said the Chinese have the right to intercept and escort U.S. aircraft in international airspace, but not to endanger aircrews.
"Aggressive flying is more of an issue around Hainan Island than off the northern or eastern coasts of China," Quigley said. Squadrons develop "different personalities" based on their leadership, he said, and those based in the south seem to be more aggressive.
Quigley also answered reporters' questions about the Chinese fighters carrying Israeli-built Python missiles. "The Israelis informed the United States after the sale was made," he said. "Generally, we're not in favor of this. That's a good missile. We're reluctant to provide such first-rate combat capabilities to the Chinese military."