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Chinese Jet Struck Navy EP-3 Aircraft, Rumsfeld Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 13, 2001 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters today that U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Shane Osborn's EP-3 plane didn't turn and strike one of the Chinese jets that was "buzzing" the surveillance aircraft.

The EP-3 "was on auto pilot and it did not deviate from a straight and level path until it had been hit by the Chinese fighter aircraft," Rumsfeld said.

The Chinese jet's tail hit the EP-3's number-one engine propeller, Rumsfeld said. Then, the American plane's "auto pilot went off and it made a steep left turn and lost some five-to-eight-thousand feet in altitude as the crew attempted to regain control."

The 24-member EP-3 crew is now undergoing debriefings on Hawaii, Rumsfeld said. He added that he had spoken to Osborn on the phone yesterday morning "to get a first-hand report" about the March 31 incident.

The 10-minute conversation between Rumsfeld and Osborn occurred shortly after 11 a.m. Eastern Time. Rumsfeld was in his Pentagon office and Osborn was with 23 members of his crew on an U.S. Air Force C-17 plane headed for Hawaii.

Rumsfeld told reporters that the EP-3 wasn't conducting espionage and was justified in flying its mission over the South China Sea.

"Our EP-3 was flying an overt, reconnaissance and surveillance mission in international airspace in an aircraft clearly marked 'United States Navy,'" he said. "It was on a well-known flight path that we had used for decades.

"Many countries perform such flights, including China."

Rumsfeld noted that Osborn decided to make for Hainan Island to land the stricken EP-3, which had sustained damage to two engines, its fuselage, and lost its nose cone in the collision with the Chinese F-8 jet. The damaged jet plunged into the sea and the pilot is still missing.

"I'm told that the crew made some 25 to 30 attempts to broadcast mayday and distress signals and to alert the world, as well as Hainan Island, that they were going to be forced to land there," he said.

After making a safe landing on Hainan, Rumsfeld noted that Osborn and his crew "were greeted with armed [Chinese] troops."

"So, I suspect that the people at the airfield knew that they were coming," he added.

Bits of metal from the collision had pierced portions of the EP-3's fuselage, Rumsfeld remarked, making such noise from the rushing air that it was very difficult for the crew to hear.

"Therefore, they really could not be aware as to whether or not their distress signals had been acknowledged," he said.

Chinese pilots "had been maneuvering aggressively against our aircraft in recent months," Rumsfeld said. He showed reporters videotape of one such encounter that occurred Jan. 24. The videotape depicted a Chinese jet "buzzing" an American EP-3 surveillance aircraft.

The jet seemed very unstable flying at lower speeds, Rumsfeld said, and at times the video showed the Chinese plane approaching within feet of the EP-3.

The Chinese jets "are not designed to fly" at such low speeds, Rumsfeld said, in explaining the jet's instability.

He remarked that in December U.S. government officials "were sufficiently concerned about the behavior of Chinese aircraft, that concerns were raised in a formal protest, both in Beijing and in Washington, D.C."

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