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U.S/China Standoff: Release of Crew Welcome News to Families

Aired April 11, 2001 - 07:50   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We've got President Bush making his remarks live at 8:25 a.m.: reaction to the news that the U.S. crew will be released from Hainan, China, though a specific date and hour yet to be determined. And we will be carrying those remarks live out of the Washington.

But, in the meantime, we want to check in with CNN national correspondent Martin Savidge. He is on the island of Hawaii in Honolulu, in fact, where the -- we expect that the American crew, once they leave China, will be making a stop in Honolulu.

Marty, are you seeing some preparations there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, of course, it is the middle of the night here. It's just getting close to about 2:00 in the morning. But that doesn't mean that the news coming out of China is any less welcome.

Military sources here in Hawaii say that, after the crew is released, they will most likely be officially welcomed home onto U.S. soil at Hickam Air Force Base, which, as you know, is located right next door to Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu here in Hawaii.

Reportedly, staff has already been called in early this morning to begin the planning in earnest for that event. The island of Oahu is the headquarter of the Pacific Command. That's the ultimate authority that oversees the EP-3 aircraft and the crews that fly on board them.

No exact timeframe, though, is being given here. It's also unclear as to whether officials from Washington would be traveling to Hawaii to be part of that welcoming ceremony. But, for the first time since this drama began, plans finally to see the 24 crew members step on U.S. soil and return home are in full swing -- Carol.

LIN: Marty, what would -- what would be involved in preparing for the crew to come back? Do you know?

SAVIDGE: Well, those are all the features that have been going over --- they've been going over. One of the things when I was up at Whidbey Island on Monday, which is, of course, the home base for the aircrew, there had been discussions about possibly getting the family members up there and flying them out here to Hawaii as part of the reunion. Now, of course, there is the ceremony that has to be worked out. There is the emotional aspect of the families coming together and greeting. But there's also the business at hand that has to be conducted. Patty Davis pointed that out, referring from the Pentagon that there is the very serious aspect of the debriefing of the crew that has to be done -- the formal process of actually hearing without any hindrance from the Chinese as to what took place, what may have caused this incident and who may truly be at fault for what happened.

So there is both the emotional side that has to be carried out, but the business side as well. Trying to conduct both of those in the very clear and open public view is something that is the reason they're up at the early hour, as they are, trying to plan things, trying to get it all worked out -- Carol.

LIN: All right, thank you very much, Marty Savidge. Yes, it is indeed early out there -- Colleen.

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: All right.

Some more developments for you from the State Department now -- CNN's David Ensor is there with more -- hi, David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

Just to say that, as you have mentioned, Secretary Powell will be, we understand, offering some comments about this after the president has when -- Mr. Powell, of course, is on his way to Paris -- he may be there by now -- and will be talking from there.

And, otherwise, to say that -- officials here say there was an flurry of diplomatic activity at the -- at the close of this. The deputy to Admiral Prueher, the DCM, he's called, at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, was in the Foreign Ministry first for meetings. Then Ambassador Prueher went in. And, of course, it's the ambassador's signature that is on the letter that we reported the contents of from the White House a little while ago.

Officials here call it the "letter of the two sorry's." And the first "sorry": The U.S. is sorry that the Chinese have lost a pilot and an aircraft. And secondly, the U.S. is sorry that its aircraft was obliged to land in Hainan without having gotten verbal permission to do so.

But they point out that the language is also in there that the U.S. plane had requested permission and was following international procedures -- officials here saying that, in the end, the U.S. was not willing to use the word apologize and has not apologized, but got as close as it could to that, first saying "regret," then saying "sorry," "sorrow," and now saying "very sorry" twice. And that, apparently, was what it took.

MCEDWARDS: All right, CNN's David Ensor, thanks -- State Department officials, as he just said, dubbing this "the letter of the two sorry's." Whatever it was, it has helped to secure the release of the 24 crew of that U.S. spy plane. They are to be released. We don't have a timetable for it yet, but they are expected to be released as soon as possible -- Carol, over to you.

LIN: All right.

I'm just hearing new word here, Colleen -- wait two seconds -- Barbara -- what is the name again? -- Distefano.

All right, we are, obviously, throughout the morning getting new information. And we are trying to contact family members.

And right now on the telephone with CNN is Barbara Distefano.

Barbara can you hear me?

BARBARA DISTEFANO, SISTER OF DETAINED U.S. CREW MEMBER: Yes, I can.

LIN: Hi, Barbara. I'm sorry, I just got your name. Please tell me, whose relative are you?

DISTEFANO: Kenneth Richter, my -- it's my brother.

LIN: Your brother, all right.

Well, how did you hear the news this morning?

DISTEFANO: One of the other news stations called me up and wanted to know what my reaction was to my brother being released.

LIN: And what is it?

DISTEFANO: Delighted. We're all delighted. As soon as I got off the phone, I ran in and woke my parents up and told them the good news.

LIN: And they must have been thrilled.

Have you been able to communicate with your brother during this time?

DISTEFANO: The only thing is that we've been able to send e- mails, one-way e-mails. We haven't heard back from him, but we're waiting for his phone call to say that he's safe.

LIN: And that must have been good news indeed.

Do you have any idea -- have you heard from anyone with the American government as to when he might be back and what sort of condition he's in right now?

DISTEFANO: No, we haven't heard anything. But the phone has been ringing off the hook with everybody imaginable. So I'm sure they're probably trying to get through.

LIN: What was his job on the EP-3?

DISTEFANO: It's listed as cryptologist . LIN: And so...

DISTEFANO: What it details exactly, I'm not sure. He never spoke about it.

LIN: So -- did he ever tell you that he ever had any concerns about going on any of these missions, that something like this might have happened, and what you should be doing during that time, if he was ever to be detained?

DISTEFANO: No, he never prepared us for any of this. You know, this is just learn as you go, I guess. But he never spoke of what his job was. And, you know, we really didn't know what could happen.

LIN: So what's the first thing you're going to do when he gets home?

DISTEFANO: Well, when I see him, I'm going to hug him and then yell at him for putting us all through this stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

LIN: Don't you love family?

DISTEFANO: Yes.

LIN: All right. Thank you very much, Barbara Distefano. And we wish you well and hope you get to see your brother real soon.

MCEDWARDS: And, at this hour, there is a chartered plane -- a plane chartered by the U.S. on the island of Guam at the Andersen Air Force Base, waiting to, presumably, go to Hainan Island and pick up those 24 crew. It is scheduled to take off about five hours from now.

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