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Diplomats' Mission: 'Bring The People Home,' Bush Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2001 – President Bush said April 5 that the United States "is working all diplomatic channels" to expedite the return of the 24-member Navy aircrew being detained on the Chinese island of Hainan.

In remarks at the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention here, Bush said he regretted the apparent death of the missing Chinese fighter pilot whose plane collided March 31 with a U.S. Navy EP-3 aircraft on patrol over the South China Sea. After the collision, the Navy plane and crew made an emergency landing on Hainan and have been detained since.

"I regret that a Chinese pilot is missing, and I regret one of their airplanes is lost," Bush said, "Our prayers go out to the pilot (and) his family. Our prayers are also with our own servicemen and women. And they need to come home."

Bush called the relationship between the United States and China very important and added, "We should not let this incident destabilize relations." He said diplomatic discussions are continuing to secure the release of the 24 Americans.

"My mission is to bring the people home," he emphasized.

The State Department has the lead in obtaining the release of the U.S. crew and plane, DoD officials said.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in an April 4 statement that he was "heartened by the good spirits and health of the 24 men and women in the crew of the EP-3. I hope and expect that their good treatment will continue."

Adm. Dennis Blair, U.S. Pacific Command commander in chief, has been making preparations for the crew's return when that is made possible, Rumsfeld said.

"That is and remains our No. 1 priority -- the speedy and safe return of our people," Rumsfeld said. "The services have taken every step possible to stay in touch with the families of the service members and ensure that they are kept fully informed of circumstances as they develop."

DoD spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, talking to reporters at an April 5 Pentagon briefing, said a State Department delegation had met with the crew April 3 for 40 minutes and determined no one appeared injured or mistreated.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, reporting a second meeting April 6, said delegation visitors again said the EP-3 crew "looked good" and exhibited good morale. Another meeting is slated April 7.

Quigley noted at the Pentagon that a 1998 U.S.-China aviation and maritime safety agreement could be a framework to speed the release of the crew, composed of 22 sailors, one Marine and one airman, including three women.

According to a personnel manifest provided by the chief of naval operations, the EP-3 crew members are:

o Lt. Patrick Honeck, La Mesa, Calif.

o Lt. Shane Osborn, Norfolk, Neb.

o Lt. Marcia Sonon, Lenharstville, Pa.

o Lt. j.g. John Comerford, Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.

o Lt. j.g. Regina Kauffman, Warminster, Pa.

o Lt. j.g. Richard Payne, (hometown not in record)

o Lt. j.g. Jeffery Vignery, Goodland, Kan.

o Ensign Richard Bensing, Brandon, Fla.

o Senior Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Mellos, Ypsilanti, Mich.

o Petty Officer 1st class Shawn Coursen, Valdosta, Ga.

o Petty Officer 1st class Josef Edmunds, Davis, Calif.

o Petty Officer 2nd class David Cecka, Leavenworth, Wash.

o Petty Officer 2nd class Brandon Funk, Show Low, Ariz.

o Petty Officer 2nd class Scott Guidry, Satellite Beach, Fla.

o Petty Officer 2nd class Jason Hanser, Billings, Mont.

o Petty Officer 2nd class Ramon Mercado, Moreno Valley, Calif.

o Petty Officer 2nd class Kenneth Richter, Staten Island, N.Y.

o Petty Officer 2nd class Wendy Westbrook, Rock Creek, Ohio

o Petty Officer 3rd class Rodney Young, Katy, Texas

o Petty Officer 3rd class Steven Blocher, Charlotte, N.C.

o Seaman Bradford Borland, (hometown not in record)

o Seaman Jeremy Crandall, Poplar Grove, Ill.

o Marine Corps Sgt. Richard Pray, Geneseo, Ill.

o Air Force Senior Airman Curtis Towne, Haywood, Calif.

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