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U.S. Diplomatic Team Seeks Contact With Navy Plane Crew

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2001 – A three-member U.S. diplomatic team is on the Chinese island of Hainan today seeking contact with the Navy crew that had landed their aircraft there March 31 after an air incident with a People's Republic of China jet fighter.

"They are still out of touch with us," U.S. Pacific Command spokesperson Navy Cmdr. Rex Totty said of the 24-member crew of the Navy EP-3 aircraft. The U.S. delegation on Hainan, he said, consists of the U.S. defense attaché and Navy attaché from Beijing and the U.S. consul from Guangzhou.

Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of Pacific Command, said at an April 1 press briefing in Hawaii that the EP-3 surveillance aircraft was on a routine mission in international airspace over the South China Sea. The incident, he said, occurred about 70 nautical miles off Hainan.

"Chinese fighters intercepted the aircraft, and one of them bumped into the wing of the EP-3 aircraft," Blair said at the briefing. He noted that the U.S. pilot then declared a "mayday" emergency.

"He declared that 'mayday' emergency and then turned to the airfield at Lingshui, which was the closest airfield to land," Blair said.

The last message the Navy received from the EP-3's crew was "when they landed safely at Lingshui, and the crew informed us that all 24 military personnel on board were safe and the plane had landed safely," he added.

"We are waiting, right now, for the Chinese government to give us the kind of cooperation that's expected of countries in situations like this, so that we can repair the plane, our people can return, and we can go about our business," Blair said.

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