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American Crewmembers Returning Home

Aired April 12, 2001 - 09:33   ET


LINDA STOUFFER, CNN ANCHOR: Updating our top story right now that we've been talking about, the return of the Navy spy plane crew. At this hour, the 24 crewmembers are headed to Hawaii on the second leg of their journey home. There are other -- excuse me, I can tell that you they left Guam 5:00 a.m. Eastern time; they are due to arrive in Hawaii in just a couple of hours.

Now, CNN's Marina Kamimura brought us exclusive live coverage of the crew's departure from Guam. She's now joining us by videophone with the latest from there -- Marina.


Well, the crews' flight from Guam on a U.S. Air Force transport plane, perhaps an extraordinary day for those of us watching the resolution of the standoff over here. Of course, the plane that brought those crewmembers out of China was a civilian flight; a chartered plane that left Guam's international airport in the wee hours of Thursday morning local time for the flight to Hainan, then turning around very quickly, bringing those crewmembers back here to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.


DEBBIE PURCELL, CONTINENTAL FLIGHT ATTENDANT: The captain made an announcement we were 12 miles offshore that the free world recognized this as international airspace, and we were in international airspace. Everybody cheered and it was a good time.


KAMIMURA: Those few minutes when those crewmembers descended from the jet back onto American soil again, a very special time for all there gathered to see those crewmembers come back. We are told by those gathered to greet the crew ought on the tarmac that there were big smiles and an extraordinary feeling of relief for all around.

Now, the crew of that 737 chartered jet that helped bring those 24 Navy personnel back says that their passengers said that they were very grateful to be brought out and were overall in very good condition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PURCELL: The crew that came onboard were in very high spirits. They were very grateful, very thankful; very healthy -- in good health and very, very happy to...

QUESTION: Were they hungry?

PURCELL: They were hungry; hungry for American food. There were -- and very talkative. They wanted to share -- and the high energy; they had a lot of energy going on and it was just a wonderful thing to be able to be a part of.


KAMIMURA: Of course, this confirms what U.S. diplomats have been telling us all along, that the health and spirits of the detainees is good. The crew of that Navy reconnaissance plane had about five hours to rest, relax and do what they had longed to do -- that is, make a phone call to relatives at home, and it was back onto a military plane, this time to start the second leg of their journey home; a flight halfway across the Pacific to Hawaii -- Linda.

STOUFFER: Marina Kamimura, thanks so much for that. Good to hear some good news about those men and women -- Leon.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: China's foreign ministry today issued another call for the U.S. to stop surveillance flights off the China coast, and there are some other issues as well to be resolved between those two countries.

CNN Beijing bureau chief Rebecca MacKinnon checks in now; she's live and she's got the latest reaction from China -- Rebecca.

REBECCA MACKINNON, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Well Leon, while, for many Americans, this crisis now appears to be over, with the release of the 24 U.S. crewmembers -- however, from the Chinese perspective, the fighter pilot Wang Wei is still lost. And from the Chinese government's perspective, this business is not finished.


MACKINNON (voice-over): The crew of the U.S. spy plane may have gone home, but the Chinese pilot whose plane went down after colliding with them now appears to be gone forever. The EP-3 surveillance plane he was tailing at time of the accident remains on Hainan Island, where it made its emergency landing.

For China, this incident is far from over.

ZHANG QIYUE, FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN (through translator): The U.S. plane ran into and destroyed the Chinese plane, causing the Chinese pilot to go missing, then entered Chinese territory and landed on the Chinese airfield without permission. This incident is not concluded yet. The Chinese side urges the U.S. side to make a convincing explanation to the Chinese people. Stop sending airplanes near China's coast to conduct reconnaissance activity and take effective measures to prevent such things from happening again. MACKINNON: The headlines in China's state-controlled media were victorious, declaring the U.S. had finally said it was sorry. But the mood on the street was not so euphoric.

"Those Americans are such jerks," says this man. "It's just not right for them to bully us Chinese like that."

"We ordinary Chinese don't think the crew should be released," says one woman. "A debt of blood should be paid with blood."

But now that they have been released, their plane is China's final bargaining chip.

QIYUE: China is fully entitled to conduct a comprehensive investigation concerning this plane, and will decide how to handle this aircraft based on the result of this investigation.


MACKINNON: Now, what happens to this plane will depend on talks between the United States and China scheduled to start next week. Observers here believe that the Chinese government is going to be under a great deal of pressure, not only from the Chinese public, but also from the Chinese military to win real concessions out of the United States, or it may look weak -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, thanks much; Rebecca MacKinnon reporting live this evening, there, in Beijing.

Let's go now to perhaps the one place where people are even happier than the 24 crewmen who are actually in the air right now on their way back home: the folks who are -- their friends and family waiting to see them back home on Whidbey Island.

Standing by live there now is our Lilian Kim -- Lilian.

LILIAN KIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, the people here at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station are eagerly anticipating the crew's return. Preparations are underway for the big welcome home celebration. The 24 men and women are scheduled to return on Saturday, but it didn't take long for residents to put up welcome home signs in and around the base. We saw a handful of banners, and you can bet plenty of more will be popping up as the days go by. The celebration on Saturday is open to the public and the crew members' families will be flown into town courtesy of the military.

Now many of the crews' families have expressed gratitude to the pilot of that navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane, Lieutenant Shane Osborn, but his parents credited the entire 24-member crew.


DOUG OSBORN, FATHER OF PILOT SHANE OSBORN: We're very proud of him and, you know, he's always been a hero to us. But it still took 23 other people to get everything done that had to be done on that airplane. So we appreciate the fact that he wants to do that, don't get me wrong, but we know that they all did a great job as well.


KIM: Later today we will get more details on what kind of celebration we can expect on Saturday. Now, after the big welcome home, crewmembers will be given a 30-day leave from service so they can catch up with friends and family.

Reporting live from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, I'm Lilian Kim. Leon and Linda, back to you.

HARRIS: All right; thanks Lilian, we'll see you soon -- Linda.

STOUFFER: Well, President Bush is applauding his national security team for keeping the incident with China from becoming a crisis. But, as mentioned, there still are issues to be resolved.

Our Jeanne Meserve is tracking developments and reaction for us in Washington.

Hello, Jeanne.


The most immediate issues facing the White House: the future of surveillance flights near China and the return of that U.S. aircraft still on the ground there.

For the latest on all of that, we go to Kelly Wallace at the White House.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeanne, getting that plane back the administration's next top priority and, as Rebecca MacKinnon noted, this issue to be discussed at that April 18 meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials. Also to be discussed at that meeting: China expected to raise its concern about U.S. surveillance flights taking place near China, but the word is, from senior administration officials, that those flights will continue.

At same time, another issue here: just whether the United States had to offer the Chinese any concessions on other issues such as trade or potential American arms sales to Taiwan to secure the release of those 24 crewmembers. Well, I talked with Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, earlier this morning and she said there were absolutely no side deals in this agreement.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Nothing was discussed with the Chinese in the context of this incident but what was in that letter. That is, that the United States would say that we were sorry for the things that we're sorry for: that the Chinese pilot was lost, that we had to enter Chinese airspace, that is to -- the plane, which was in extremis, had to land without verbal permission. Although, I must say, he tried on an international frequency and was unable to reach the Chinese, and the willingness to meet in the maritime commission to discuss the incident itself and how to avoid them in the future. But there were no side deals; no other issues ever entered the discourse.


WALLACE: So the message from this White House: There were no concessions, no discussions on other issues. And Jeanne, I know you have a guest right now to pick up on this very subject.

MESERVE: And with me now is James Lilley, a former ambassador to China.

The Chinese didn't get the apology that they wanted. Do you believe that there was some sort of side deal, or at least an assurance that the Chinese would get something else from the U.S.?

JAMES R. LILLEY, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: I listened to Dr. Condoleezza Rice last night and this morning, and she was unequivocal: No side deals were made. And in the editorial we wrote this morning we said: You should not make any side deals, you should not cave in to the sort of threats they made against you.

MESERVE: But could there have been quiet assurance about arms sales to Taiwan or some other...

LILLEY: I would be very disappointed if there were. I don't think there; I am quite sure there were not because this is too much leverage that we could use against the Chinese to get them to work with us in the future.

MESERVE: In the article that you wrote this morning...


MESERVE: ... you pointed up a positive side to this, saying that you believe dangerous allusions on both sides are being swept away. What do you mean?

LILLEY: Well, I think the whole idea that we had a Chinese junkyard military and that somehow military lovey-lovey contacts would bring us into a warm relationship where we'd understand each other and that somehow economic reform would lead to democratic outpourings -- and these things, no, it didn't happen. What you got was the traditional, historic Chinese stubbornness, fixation on semantics, preoccupation with face and this terrible thing they did about our crippled plane landing on Lingshui and saying he should have negotiated his landing because it was a violation of their sovereign rights. This was really bad.

MESERVE: Quickly: Do you think that the Bush administration is under some pressure now to show that the Chinese have to pay a price for this episode?

LILLEY: I don't think so. I think we should move on to more positive elements; we should move on to the world trade organization, permanent normal trading relations and put the focus on economics and get off this and deal with it quietly through these military talks we're starting.

MESERVE: Former Ambassador James Lilley, thanks so much for joining us.

LILLEY: Thank you.

MESERVE: And now back to Atlanta.

HARRIS: All right, thank you Jeanne.



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