Navy pilot on collision: 'I wouldn't change a thing'
WHIDBEY ISLAND, Washington (CNN) -- The pilot of a U.S. intelligence plane said he "wouldn't change a thing" about how he handled its collision with a Chinese fighter over the South China Sea.
Navy Lt. Shane Osborn landed his crippled EP-3 Aries II safely on China's Hainan Island early April 1 (March 31 in Washington) after the collision. He and his crew spent 11 days detained by Chinese authorities before being released last week after a standoff that has left raw nerves between Washington and Beijing.
Osborn told CNN the four-engine turboprop, which Navy crews describe as a "flying pig," dropped from 22,500 feet to 15,000 feet after the collision before it leveled off.
"Definitely, I thought on the initial impact that he just killed us," Osborn said.
Added Osborn's co-pilot, Lt. j.g. Richard Vignery: "We all thought we weren't going to make it through."
Osborn rejected the Chinese account that the U.S. plane was at fault in the collision, which resulted in the Chinese fighter pilot being lost at sea. "I wouldn't change a thing," he said.
The accident occurred as the Chinese fighter buzzed the larger, slower U.S. plane. U.S. authorities had complained before about China's aggressive tactics in shadowing U.S. surveillance flights, and Lt. Patrick Honeck said the Chinese pilot was so close -- within three feet to five feet of the U.S. plane -- that he could see him salute and make gestures for the U.S. plane to leave the area.
"They had joined up on us twice, and it was the third time that the impact happened," Osborn said. "The two prior join-ups were within three to five feet, and Lt. Honeck was looking out the window giving me updates as best as he could, and we knew that this was an unusual type of intercept."
China released the 24-member crew after the United States said it was "very sorry" for the loss of Chinese pilot Wang Wei and for the surveillance plane's emergency landing on Hainan without clearance from Chinese controllers.
But Bush administration officials do not consider the statement an apology for the collision itself, and the administration -- particularly Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- has pressed its case that Wang was responsible for the incident.
U.S.-China talks set for Wednesday
U.S. and Chinese officials are set to meet Wednesday to discuss the questions lingering after the crew's return. China has called for an end to the surveillance flights, which the administration says are necessary for national security.
At that meeting, U.S. officials plan to explain their view of how the accident took place, discuss how to avoid future collisions and seek to get the U.S. plane returned. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday those matters need to be discussed in a "forthright fashion."
"I don't think that either nation wants to have a repeat of an incident like this, and that means flying differently," Fleischer said.
An eight-person U.S. delegation will meet with Chinese officials Wednesday in Beijing to discuss what will happen to the damaged aircraft and the future of U.S. surveillance flights. Fleischer said they will ask "tough questions" about China's policy of intercepting those flights over international waters.
But a Pentagon official termed "bogus" a report on Monday in The Washington Post that the carrier USS Kitty Hawk may be moved to a position in the South China Sea, where it could provide fighter escort to protect U.S. reconnaissance planes when flights resume.
China called off the search for its missing pilot on Saturday, with state news outlets eulogizing him as a "revolutionary martyr." Chinese observers say the surveillance flights aggravate Beijing by rubbing its nose in U.S. military strength.
"It's part of their containment policy towards China," said Shen Jiru, an analyst at China's Academy of Social Sciences. "They want to be ready for a war with China over Taiwan. This is Cold War logic. They have spy satellites. Why do they have to send planes so close?"
Angry lawmakers seek 'retribution'
Meanwhile, several leading members of Congress have called for action against the Chinese now that the crew is safely home.
"I hate on Easter morning to talk about retribution, but there's going to be retribution," Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-New Jersey, told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
Some lawmakers want Congress to go on record opposing Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympic Games; others suggest rethinking support for China's entry into the World Trade Organization. But with U.S.-China trade approaching $100 billion, few are willing to threaten those links.
Others are urging President Bush to approve the sale of destroyers equipped with the Aegis advanced air defense radar system to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.
"If the Chinese authorities thought that this was somehow going to diminish our desire to sell defensive armaments and equipment to the Taiwanese, they've clearly miscalculated," said Sen. George Allen, R-Virginia.
But others warn that it is Washington that stands to lose from isolating a rapidly growing China.
"It is in the best interest of our country and the world to put this relationship back on track," Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Members of Congress consider slapping sanctions on China
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