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.
STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: A much anticipated homecoming. Forced to make an emergency landing in China almost two weeks ago today, the 24-member crew of the U.S. spy plane lands in Washington state to a hero's welcome. And the pilot is speaking out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIEUTENANT SHANE OSBORN, MISSION COMMANDER: First thing I thought was, this guy just killed us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRAZIER: As the United States and China continue to disagree on who was at fault, we'll take a closer look at the pilot's side of the story.
Good evening. I'm Stephen Frazier in Atlanta. Welcome to our special coverage of the United States crew homecoming.
We're going to begin saying that the long journey home for the U.S. military crew held in China should come to a cheerful end in about one hour from now, and that's also when the celebrating should begin in earnest. In some homes, it's been on now for several days.
Live pictures we're showing you now from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state. This is the crew's home base, and it is their final destination today. When they land at about 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, they will be greeted by their families, by dignitaries and by thousands of well-wishers. In fact, 10,000 people are expected to show up for this homecoming.
A few hours ago, the crew boarded a plane at Hickam Air Force base in Hawaii, where they spent the past two days in intense debriefing. The gates of Whidbey Island opened to the public about two hours ago, and that's where CNN national correspondent Frank Buckley joins us now.
Frank, hello again.
FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Stephen, last ETA we received here at NAS Whidbey Island was the arrival time of 4:06 p.m. Pacific time, that's 7:06 Eastern time. And at htat point, we are expecting the plane to arrive here on the field, Alt field. And once they arrive here at Alt field, we are expecting them to pull up to hangar six, which is where we are, and they will be greeted by an estimated crowd of 10,000 people.
Some of those people already gathering here at Alt field. I would say at least a couple thousand people, perhaps more, are gathered outside, already waving their flags, and they -- many people have been here for hours. The base opened at 1:00 p.m. local time, so they have been out there for a couple hours.
Most of these people, in fact, I would say, almost all of these people are not related directly to members of the flight crew. They are just members of this community here at Whidbey Island, and many people are in some way connected to the military community here.
There is a great deal of anticipation. Twenty-four crew members expected to arrive in approximately one hour to be greeted by family members, and then by the many members of the community who are gathering here now -- Stephen.
FRAZIER: Frank, I am not sure you are able to hear us with all that band music plaing behind you and the electronics that I saw you fiddling with. Can you hear us OK? Does not sound like Frank is hearing us, and with the patriotic band playing, who would care.
Some of the crew members, including the pilot, Shane Osborn, spoke at a news conference in Hawaii before they all took off for home. They shared their feelings during those tense moments following the mid-air collision with a Chinese fighter jet, and they were dramatic tales.
CNN's Rusty Dornin has their story.
RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Finally, what was going through the mind of Navy pilot Lieutenant Shane Osborne when the Chinese fighter crashed into his surveillance plane.
OSBORN: First thing I thought was, this guy just killed us. As the plane snap-rolled to about 130-degree angle, which is getting near the inverted side. I remember looking up and seeing water, when I lifted my head up. And then, I also saw another plane smoking towards the earth with flames coming out of it.
DORNIN: Osborn says he considered ditching, as he struggled to pull the aircraft out of a nose dive. Once level, the pilot gave the command to destroy the sensitive surveillance equipment.
OSBORN: We activated the emergency destroy plan well offshore. I don't want to talk about what happened on the ground.
DORNIN: On the ground, the crew says they were treated with respect by the Chinese, but it was still a very stressful situation.
OSBORN: They obvioulsy fed us well. And the only unpleasant part was the interrogation and the lack of sleep.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "NAVY VIDEO") UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, we got a BID on him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DORNIN: The recent video released by Washington shows the harassment of U.S. aircraft. Lieutenant Osborn says that harassment was common knowledge among crews.
It had happened before to him, Osborn says, but not as aggressively. He says the fighter came dangerously close twice before the collision.
OSBORN: He would come up close, co-altitude, within about three to five feet, was making gestures. Pulled back a little bit, came back up again and made some more gestures, and then the third time, his closure rate was too far. Instead of under-running, he attempted to kind of turn and pitch up, and that was when his vertical stabilizer, where it meets the fuselage of the aircraft, impacted my number one propeller, basically, pretty much tearing his aircraft apart.
DORNIN: Senior flight engineer Nicholas Mellos says there was mayhem in the cockpit, but the reaction of the flight crew was immediate.
NICHOLAS MELLOS, SENIOR CHIEF PETTY OFFICER: And thank God for the training that we do every day. Because I'm here to tell you, without it, there would have been a different press conference today.
DORNIN (on camera): No apologies from a crew of men and women who said they did it by the book, and they did it right. Rusty Dornin, CNN, Hickam Air Force base, Hawaii.
FRAZIER: Those comments from Lieutenant Osborn and his crew just a few hours ago now, which means taht Whidbey Island is abuzz with this news among egear family members. They are anxious now to greet their loved ones, learning even more how desperate that flight was. Their wait almost over now, the plane carrying the 24 crew members is expected to arrive at 7:00 Eastern time. The formal welcoming ceremony will kick off at 7:45, we will bring all of that to you live.
Captain Scott O'Grady will be watching the return of the American crew with special interest. You'll recall, he was the United States Air Force pilot who was shot down over Bosnia. He's the special guest tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE," which begins at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, when we give over after the end of this special.
Not to distract from the ceremonies at Whidbey Island, President Bush is spending a low-key holiday weekend at his Texas ranch. But he did take time during today's radio address to thank the returning crew members and to commend all those serving in the military.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our thoughts are also with the men and women of our military, deployed around the world and away from their families. They have our sincere gratitude. And on this holiday, we offer the thanks of our nation to the 24 servicemen and women who are no longer in China and are now home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRAZIER: In china, meanwhile, they've given up hope now of finding the pilot who parachuted into the South China Sea after his fighter jet collided with the U.S. surveillance plane. Now China and the United States are painting wildly different portraits of the man's final moments as a pilot. CNN Beijing bureau chief Rebecca MacKinnon has details.
REBECCA MACKINNON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 14 days, the search for Chinese fighter pilot Wang Wei has been called off: China's state-controlled media eulogizing him as a martyr, a revolutionary hero, a patriot who gave his life to protect his motherland.
People were shown on state TV calling Wang Wei a model for China's youth, the kind of person who will build a strong China. The Chinese government is rejecting claims made by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that Wang Wei caused the April 1 collision by losing control when he flew too close to the U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane.
State television called his comments irresponsible and false. It quoted a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson who said: "We have enough evidence to prove that it was the U.S. plane that violated flight rules by suddenly veering in a wide angle at the Chinese plane in normal flight, rammed into and damaged it, resulting in the loss of the Chinese pilot. These facts are manifest. And we have irrefutable evidence that the U.S. side cannot deny."
So far, the only evidence China has produced is an interview with another Chinese fighter pilot who says he witnessed the incident. China, meanwhile, says its release on humanitarian grounds of the 24 U.S. crew members is not the end of China's dispute with the United States. The EP-3 aircraft remains on Hainan Island. The U.S. will ask China to give it back in diplomatic talks scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
China will demand the U.S. take responsibility for the collision and end all surveillance flights so close to China's coast.
Rebecca MacKinnon, CNN, Beijing.
FRAZIER: The Bush administration has made it clear it is taking a tougher stance now with China since the release of the 24 American crew members. Will the new tone affect an upcoming meeting between the two countries? With more on U.S./China relations, our CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace joins us now from Crawford, Texas, where the president is spending the weekend.
Kelly, a casual weekend but a tougher tone. Why is the tone tougher now?
KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Stephen. Well, the administration saying it definitely is putting forward this tougher tone. We saw it coming first from President Bush on Thursday, followed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday.
Aides say they are sending a clear signal to the Chinese. Basically, that Beijing's action will determine if the two countries can have a productive relationship in the future. So the administration will be watching, watching to see how the Chinese respond to some tough questions from U.S. officials in this upcoming meeting on Wednesday. Again, to see if this will signal that Beijing wants to have a good relationship between the two countries.
Stephen, though, some observers also think that tougher line coming from the administration is also a way for Mr. Bush to kind of play to some of his critics, conservative critics in his own party, who felt that he was not tough enough against the Chinese -- Stephen.
FRAZIER: The meeting we are talking about, Kelly, is that scheduled meeting that the U.S.-China Maritime Commission, this mechanism set up a long time ago to try to deal with conflicts such as this. Is that right?
WALLACE: Right. I think my understanding is the meeting coming up is this coming Wednesday, and I am not exactly is sure if it's exactly part of that, or that will sort of set the framework for this Maritime Commission meeting, which was scheduled, I think, on April 23rd.
But still, the key issues here: the U.S. is going to go into this meeting pressing the Chinese to return that $80 million surveillance plane, also going into the meeting telling the Chinese the United States plans to continue these surveillance flights.
The U.S. will be objecting also to what it calls some challenging actions by the Chinese fighter pilot. As you know listening to Rebecca MacKinnon's package, Chinese will go into this meeting objecting to those surveillance flights.
So really, it will be interesting scene to see how each side responds to the other's concerns and, again, what that signals for the future relationship between Washington and Beijing -- Stephen.
FRAZIER: In Crawford, Texas, Kelly Wallace. Kelly, thank you.
And for more details on the situation between the United States and China now, including a gallery of images from the 11-day standoff, visit cnn.com, or use AOL keyword "CNN."
Coming up shortly on "CNN TONIGHT," we'll hear from the father of one of the U.S. crew members on his feelings during the ordeal. Also, a mother's plea for calm as she buries a son. The latest on the unrest in Cincinnati coming up.
FRAZIER: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the U.S. crews homecoming. We are counting down to this special event, and it should get underway in about half an hour when the crew lands in Washington state. These people who are gathered there have been told the flight is on time. Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, of course, the crew's home base where thousands of people are waiting to give the 24 crew men and women a hearty homecoming.
And that's where CNN national correspondent Frank Buckley is now. He joins us live and, if I saw correctly you are joined, Frank, by a U.S. senator?
BUCKLEY: We are, Stephen, and we will hear from Senator Patty Murray in a moment. First I'd like to give you a sense of what we're seeing here inside of hangar six and just outside of hangar six at Ault Field at the naval air station, Whidbey Island. We have thousands of people who are arriving. I can't give you an exact number, but you can see for yourself there that we have several thousand people on the tarmac awaiting the arrival of that C-9 aircraft that is coming from Hawaii. The estimated arrival time at just after 4:00 p.m. local time -- just after 7:00 p.m. Eastern time.
You can see a number of people standing on-line to get into this area. There are some choke points for security purposes as people come onto the tarmac. They're expecting some 10,000 people to arrive here. At the end of the day that number may be exceeded by the number of people who actually arrive. And they will try to get as many of those people inside of hangar six here as possible.
The plan is that when the C-9 pulls up there will be a two-part ceremony. The first part of the ceremony with -- friends and family members of the crewmembers will be at the foot of the plane. As they alight from the plane they'll be greeted by family members. The family members flown in from various parts of the country to greet the crewmembers; they wanted to make sure -- the U.S. military wanted to make sure that each one of the crewmembers was greeted by at least one or more loved ones as they came off of that airplane. So we believe that we will see the emotional reunions between some of those crewmembers and their family members. That will be the first part of the ceremony.
After that those 24 crewmembers will walk down a red carpet into hangar six, and once inside of hangar six we will have a more formal ceremony inside of the hangar.
Joining me now is Senator Patty Murray and you -- this is your hometown -- Whidbey Island?
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: This is my hometown; I live here. And we are just delighted to have so many people show up for this great celebration today. BUCKLEY: You know, people who live in military communities, it tends to be -- even if you are not in the military you are somehow connected -- you have a loved one in the military or you...
MURRAY: Everybody knows somebody, and you see them at the grocery store. They're you're friends, they're your neighbors, they're who you see when you walk down the street. And they're ours, and we take care of them. So today is a very special day for our community.
BUCKLEY: I was at the best restaurant in Whidbey Island, in my opinion, in the 24 hours that I was here -- at the Potbelly Diner last night and it was incredible, the electricity there. Everyone was talking about it.
MURRAY: Everybody's talking about it. And I think we're so proud of our crew and how they handled themselves, how they landed that plane. And we want them to know that they were courageous, we're proud of them and we're proud that they're part of our community.
BUCKLEY: Senator, you sit on the Appropriations Committee; part of that is giving money to the military. Does this influence you, when you see this sort of action...
MURRAY: Well, it actually does. One of the crewmembers I heard being interviewed said -- was asked how he managed to get through this and he said "training, training, training." Well, it is so important that we continue to provide the funds to train these crews whose lives are at risk, who are protecting us, who are out there doing some pretty dangerous duties. Training is absolutely everything and I hope that we all remember that as we move through the appropriations process this year.
BUCKLEY: We heard, throughout this incident, that this could damage America-China relations. Is it your sense -- you've met with the Chinese ambassador in the past -- that the relations are damaged at this point, or can they be repaired? Where are we?
MURRAY: Well, I do think beyond today, past this great celebration we're having we are going to be taking a critical look at our relationship with China; it's a very important one here for us in Whidbey Island, Washington state. Our economy depends upon trade, and we do a lot of trade with China. We want to make sure that we have good, solid relationships for our economy. We have a lot of educational and cultural exchanges; those are very important to us and I think -- I hope that the lessons coming out of all of this for both the U.S. and China is (sic) respect and treating people with dignity so that we can move on.
BUCKLEY: Senator Patty Murray, thank you very much for joining us here in hangar six at the naval air station, Whidbey Island.
Stephen, back to you.
FRAZIER: Frank, thank you. Senator Murray herself the daughter of a veteran proving that, in that part of the word, there's almost zero separation between the people gathered and the military itself.
And we are just counting down now as these thousands of party- goers gather and wait for the crew. They are only about 21 minutes away and the flight, we are told, is on time. A heroes' welcome expected for these returning U.S. crewmembers; we'll have a live report on what you can expect when we come back, don't go away.
FRAZIER: Let's check the scene at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Friends and family gathered there for the welcome home party of the highest order, we're told. The plane carrying the American crew is expected some time in the next 18 minutes or so.
And so, what can we expect at this big party? Well, for a preview, let's turn to Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn of the U.S. Navy. He is on hand in our Washington office to give us a sense of how the Navy pulls off this kind of welcome-home.
Admiral, thanks for joining us.
VICE ADMIRAL DENNIS MCGINN, U.S. NAVY: Thank you, Stephen. It's great to be here, and we really look forward to this wonderful return of this crew. We are extremely proud of them. We are extremely proud of their families and so happy to see the great support of fine citizens of Whidbey Island.
FRAZIER: Is there an official protocol to how this kind of event is run?
MCGINN: Actually, there is. We're pretty good at homecomings. As you know, we are for deployed force, and deployments and homecomings are part of our lives. It's one of the high points in a sailor -- a sailor's life and his family's life, when he comes home after being away from the country, from family and friends -- holidays -- and to come back and join them, especially in a time of joy like it is today.
FRAZIER: Your own career took you onto a lengthy deployments on board aircraft carriers, so just tell me what it was like for you when you were approaching home ports?
MCGINN: We would always get less sleep, probably, than we needed to, with the excitement of coming home. I was initially deployed as a pilot on aircraft carriers, so we would always be thinking about the need to be safe and alert, as we got ready to fly our aircraft off and into our home air stations.
But at the same time, to be excited about what was going to happen, so it was kind of a balance of risks, to try to be nice and safe, and also be very excited about the upcoming events. I'm sure that the crew on that airplane approaching Whidbey Island is feeling the same way.
FRAZIER: Are you in a position, admiral, to tell us who would be officially greeting the crew as they step off, and what they represent, what their commands are?
MCGINN: I believe I can. I think first of all, we'll have Admiral Mike Holmes. He's the commander of patrol forces Pacific, and the overall commander of all patrol and reconnaissance missions in the Pacific for the United States Navy.
We'll also have the commander of the Pacific region Northwest, Admiral Vince Smith, who will be there, and Vince and his team have gone through all the great logistics to make sure that this homecoming is comfortable for the crew that's returning and for the family and friends to greet them.
FRAZIER: Admiral Smith, in fact, is named not Vincent, but Vinson, which is a very proud name in the Navy, isn't it?
MCGINN: It sure is. And we've very proud of that aircraft carrier.
FRAZIER: Now, tell me a little bit more about the official -- I mean, there are speeches planned, but there's also time booked for this crew to meet with family before they actually get the big welcome under way, is that right?
MCGINN: Exactly. I think the principal role of a senior naval officer, a senior official at a homecoming of this nature is basically to get out of the way, because the main event is the reunion of those sailors, airmen and marines with their families and loved ones.
FRAZIER: All right, admiral, thank you for those insights, and welcome to our programming. We know you're going to be with us throughout this special coverage, all the way to 9:00. We're grateful to have you, Admiral Dennis McGinn in Washington.
MCGINN: Thank you, Stephen.
FRAZIER: And we will take a break here, step away for just a moment. Don't go away, we'll be right back.
FRAZIER: Welcome back to our special coverage of the Whidbey Island homecoming. Up to 10,000 people have gathered to welcome home the 24 crew members. Their plane is expected to touch down here at the naval air station in about 15 minutes. We've just been told they may perform a fly-by first, so no matter what we are doing, we are going to interrupt ourselves to show you that fly-by, as soon as we get a picture of it from an aerial camera we have standing by.
Families getting ready now for a joyous reunion with their loved ones. But students from a nearby elementary school may not be in the crowd welcoming the crew home. Even if they are not, though, they hope their welcome home message gets across. Here's Fiona Dodge (ph) with more.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This goes under, instead of over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go under.
FIONA DODGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Consider it a lesson in spelling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The E, the red E.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: C, or something like that.
DODGE: Clover Valley elementary school students spelled out their message for the Whidbey 24 this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We miss you, and we love you.
DODGE: Every classroom was in charge of making a letter, and then each student was responsible for signing it.
Some even dressed for the occasion, imitating their newfound role models.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like the pilot of the plane. I like how he -- I like how he used his physical force to bring the plane out of the spiral.
DODGE: But what the kids don't know is that the signs aren't just for the crew, they're for the...
FRAZIER: All right, well, we hate to interrupt that lovely program, but we want to show you this picture. Here is the C-9 bringing home the 24 crew members to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. These are pictures made from a helicopter, and we expect that it will be able to show us much of this crew's fly-by, although the helicopter itself has been ordered to stay about five miles away from the actual landing strip. It restricts the airspace for the reasons of safety.
FRAZIER: ... but this is a picture, as you might imagine, that's going to bring a lot of emotion to the people gathered on the ground as soon as this plane comes into view.
Clear skies, no haze, nothing to obstruct their view -- no mountains either. So soon people on the ground should know that the people detained for 11 days in China and who spent a few more days in Hawaii debriefing after that experience are within minutes of touching down and stepping off their transportation.
Let's turn to Frank Buckley now, who is inside the hangar. But Frank was one who informed us that this, in fact, is a fly-by. They're not going to land on this pass, they're going to make the kind of triumphant pass that signals the successful completion of a mission.
Frank, you were there with a senator earlier, surrounded by people who care deeply about these crewmembers.
BUCKLEY: Indeed, Stephen. And we are told that eventually this plane will come in on runway 1-3 here at NAS Whidbey Island. This will be a fly-by. The crowd has been prepped to expect it. They, obviously, don't have the benefit that we do of being able to see this plane as it approaches the runway. So -- but I suspect that they will certainly hear the plane as it goes by and hear the roar from those twin engines at the rear of that C-9, the military version of the DC- 9.
As you can see, it's coming in, and that will be, I suspect, an emotional moment for a lot of these folks, and I believe that we'll probably hear some applause as it comes by.
A great deal of emotion here at Ault Field. Ault Field, by the way, was named Ault Field on September 25, 1943 -- named in honor of commander William B. Ault, who was declared missing in action in the Battle of the Coral Sea. U.S. Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, commissioned September 21, 1942.
We are told now that the plane may, in fact, be on final -- that maybe there will not be a fly-by as we thought. They may actually just come in -- we're getting that from the tower -- CNN producer Brad Wright (ph) inside of the control tower telling us now that, in fact, the flight is on final and will touch down shortly here. So we won't get the fly-by, but I think we will get the emotion that we are expecting from the 10,000-or-so people.
Oh, wait a minute, looks like the wheels are coming back up. Landing gear coming back up. Well, things are changing by the moment; it looked like they were on final, but the wheels are back up -- we will get that fly-by. We are going to get that fly-by. It's clearing the coast, there, of Whidbey Island, coming over land now.
And we are starting to hear some of the crowd as we see the plane approach.
FRAZIER: As we;re watching, Frank, let's bring in Admiral Dennis McGinn, who's joining us from Washington.
Admiral, you've done this before, but tell us the significance of this kind of fly-by.
MCGINN: I think it's a salute, Stephen, to the professionalism of the airmen, of naval aviation and this great crew and their families watching with great anticipation on the ground.
FRAZIER: Kind of a showboat event. They're only about 800 feet off the deck, we're told.
MCGINN: I think that they've got plenty of air between them and the ground. I'm sure that safety is absolutely foremost on their mind, particularly in light of the events that precipitated this homecoming.
But it's a very, very proud moment for the crew that's onboard the aircraft -- the C-9 aircraft. And it's a great, proud moment for the C-9 crew itself to have this special mission to bring these folks back home to their families and loved ones.
FRAZIER: Admiral, Frank Buckley was giving us a little history of this naval air station. It actually started out, if I read my homework correctly, as a sea plane base -- that, actually, planes landed in the water, they were catalinas.
MCGINN: That's right, Stephen. And a lot -- as a matter of fact, a lot of our naval air stations on the coast have that legacy -- started out as sea plane bases; have ramps that go right down from the hangars across the taxiways and into the water.
FRAZIER: Now the plane has turned back; it's got to go back for its final approach. I think it's heading away and it has two turns yet to make and the people on the ground must be counting every second now.
Scenes, also, of families arriving; they're being escorted to the actual disembarkation point, as Frank Buckley was explaining earlier.
Frank, have you had a chance to talk to any families as they were arriving?
BUCKLEY: Stephen, I haven't had a chance to talk to the family members of the actual crew. They -- what they did is, starting at about 2:00 local time they had a reception for them off-site and they've kept them pretty tight with the military officials here.
I did talk to Senator Murray, however, who was in that reception and she said, expect a lot of emotion. She said that the folks are on edge. This crew has been deployed since -- I believe it was February 28 so -- which is a normal procedure, as I understand it, for these crews. They deploy for three months at a time.
And so, yes, the families, all military dependents are used to -- especially in the navy, seeing their family members who are active duty deploy and be away for weeks, months at a time. Clearly this particular mission is something that they will never forget and clearly a great deal of emotion attached to this particular homecoming.
FRAZIER: Frank, as you speak, marvelous scenes here taken by our affiliate KING, KING-TV in Seattle from a helicopter. It's just tracking as smoothly as can be; we can see now that the wheels are down again and they've got one more turn to make on final.
As they disembark, Frank, you were telling us earlier that all of the hugs and greetings will be against the backdrop of a sister plane to the EP-3E still in China.
BUCKLEY: That's right. There is an EP-3 that's here on the tarmac. This C-9 will park right in front of it. You may be able to see it behind the C-9 as it pulls into position. It is the exact same plane and, frankly, a very different sight of that particular airframe (sic) of a plane, considering what we've been seeing of the EP-3 in the photographs of that plane in China. We've been seeing a plane without the nose cone, with propeller damage, without the pido (ph) tubes that provide the airspeed indication. And this plane here is in pristine condition. It's a very different view of the same -- exact same plane that this crew piloted onto Hainan Island just -- less than two weeks ago.
You can see now the plane on final approach here, and about to land with wheels down taking place it looks like right now -- there it is.
FRAZIER: Back in the lower 48 as they say.
Admiral, in fact that EP -- much is made of how slowly that plane flies, in fact the crewmembers are fond of calling it the flying pig. Is that slowness to make it a better listener?
MCGINN: It's mostly to extend the time on station. When you fly at maximum endurance airspeed, which they were, it allows you to stay on station in an area of operation, on a mission profile a lot longer.
FRAZIER: And, of course, 16 of the members onboard this -- not the plane we're seeing now, but the EP-3 that went down are all involved in operating the equipment and the listening and the mechanics onboard. Only a few of the people involved in actually piloting the aircraft?
MCGINN: It was really a proud moment when I heard the overall review of the debriefs, the tremendous amount of teamwork that was evident under some very, very trying times, with an airplane effectively out of control, the crew not knowing whether they were going to have to bail out or, perhaps, ditch in the water. Not sure of the safety of the aircraft, yet they were working like a team, working like a great group of professionals who had trained together and really worked together well.
FRAZIER: In fact, some of the reports we heard from the debriefs was that there were pieces of metal flying around inside the plummeting plane almost as violently as shrapnel from an explosion.
MCGINN; That's right. We believe that some of the pieces of the propeller in the No. 1 engine may have penetrated the fuselage of the airplane -- the pressure bulkhead as it's called and, as a result of the differential in pressure, a lot of -- anything that was lying around unsecured could be caught up in this very, very heavy rush of air.
FRAZIER: You know, this dramatic account of the actual collision and the seconds following it from Lieutenant Osborn -- it makes you wonder -- all of the crew must have been strapped in from the very beginning, otherwise they would have been slammed around inside the fuselage.
MCGINN: I think, initially, they were in their crew stations. However, at various times, when you have an order to prepare for bail- out you have to get out of your seat, put on your parachute and go to various stations. And I think that there was motion in the airplane once he got it under control and perhaps even during the time before he did get it under control.
FRAZIER: That's a story we'd like to discuss at greater length a little bit later admiral, but let's turn to Frank Buckley now for a sense of what he's hearing as the plane comes within feet, now, of the people waiting to greet it -- Frank.
BUCKLEY: Stephen, you might be able to hear the crowd that is welling up and exploding with applause here. The familiar sound of the jet engines coming up here now. As I said before, family members here are familiar and used to having return ceremonies here for their families that are deployed. But this is a particularly emotional one.
If I can, I'd like to bring aboard here Master Chief Richard Rose, the command master chief at the Naval Air Station at Whidbey Island. As the son of a master chief, I will treat you properly, sir, or I'll get it from both sides.
Let me ask you your emotions as you're seeing this C-9 pull up?
MASTER CHIEF RICHARD ROSE, COMMAND MASTER CHIEF, WHIDBEY ISLAND: Excuse me, Frank, what was that?
BUCKLEY: Your emotions as you are seeing this C-9 pull up here in front of this huge crowd of people.
ROSE: Well, I'll tell you, it is really something. We've been working really hard to make this a special event for the crew, and it's just a great feeling.
BUCKLEY: Is there any way to properly prepare for this? Is there a rule book or a standards book that tells you, this is how we do something like this?
ROSE: There is protocol, and no, it isn't like we have not done this before. We have done it on certainly a much smaller scale. But I'll tell you, it took a week of hard work, a lot of people working hard together trying not to duplicate efforts. Certainly, the biggest thing was just coordinating efforts, and we did that, and I feel awful good about it.
BUCKLEY: We know that an effort was made to bring the family members of these crew members into place. Was that a difficult task?
ROSE: It took a lot of logistics. It sure did. A lot of people involved. But it came together nicely.
BUCKLEY: We should tell you that what is happening now, we are seeing the red carpet pulled out in front of the airplane. We know the order in which the members, the 24 members of the crew will step off this plane. The first are person off, we are told, will be Lieutenant Shane Osborn, the pilot of the plane.
Much has been said about his actions. Can you speak to -- you have been aboard EP-3s. Was it as remarkable to you as it was to other people who have talked about this? ROSE: Well, I've seen CNN and I've seen what has been said, and I'll tell you, what he's done is a pretty amazing thing to me. If I was aboard that aircraft, I'll tell you, I would be feeling awful thankful at this point.
BUCKLEY: You and I have been chatting a bit about how this affects morale here among the 10,000 members of military community on this base. What does it do for morale with this much attention on your crew members?
ROSE: It's unbelievable. The morale here -- we're hitting a high right now. You can imagine the -- just the plethora of emotions that have been going on since this event. And as soon as we learned of their release, we were on an emotional high and doing everything that we possibly could to make this a special event for them, and I think we've done that.
BUCKLEY: Lieutenant Shane Osborn coming off of the plane now on U.S. soil here in the continental United States. Shaking the hands now of various dignitaries, and this is something that we'll see 24 different times, the hands, of course, that I suspect they'll want to shake are the hands of their family members. Second person off the plane is coming now, this is Lieutenant Patrick Honeck of La Mesa, California.
FRAZIER: I'll tell you, Frank, as we are watching these greetings, that Lieutenant Osborn asked his mom to bring some Nebraska hamburger with her as she traveled to Washington state. He missed the kind of food that he grew up with at home in Nebraska.
We can also tell you that this third crew member coming down, Lieutenant Marcia Sonon from Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania, so secretive about her assignment that her mother did not know she was working on a spy plane until she read the accounts of her being missing in China.
BUCKLEY: And you know, Stephen, that may be the case with others as well. These military personnel who are involved in classified missions are not allowed to turn over to your wife and say, here's what we're doing tomorrow, and here's what I did at the office today.
ROSE: Absolutely. You can't talk about what you do, and that's not an easy thing.
FRAZIER: Just appearing at the door, coming down the steps and now joining -- coming into the left side of the frame there is Lieutenant Jeffrey Vignery, of Goodland, Kansas. He was also at the controls, one of the pilots of the plane as it went down. Grew up and went to the University of Kansas.
BUCKLEY: Looks like Shane Osborn is wiping away a tear. He was quite emotional this morning, you could see when he was at Hickam Air Force base, that he was holding back his emotions. And there -- the reunions begin.
FRAZIER: Well, we don't need to talk over this.
FRAZIER: Marcia Sonon now making her way across the tarmac. That's her mom from Hamburg, Pennsylvania.
BUCKLEY: Regina Kauffman's husband also serves, I believe, here at NAS Whidbey Island. And while he may understand her mission, still an emotional thing for him, I suspect.
BUCKLEY: Tough for us to even watch some of the pictures. Great emotion...
ROSE: Having been through many homecomings, I can tell you there's a lot of emotion running through them right now, and what a great feeling it is.
BUCKLEY: It all ended in less than two weeks, but clearly these family members didn't know -- at one point, there was a thinking that this could become a protracted event. What about the training that these people receive as they are shipped off? They know that they could be in harm's way and this could always happen, but I suspect it's not something that is on your mind all the time.
ROSE: Well, you know, we do so many things in the military that are routine, never really think about, you know, that we're in harm's way. We just do it. Event like this happens and we realize the business that we're in, and you know, reality hits you right in the face. But we all are were aware of that, and we're proud to be out there serving our country, and it's just so great to see an outpouring like this.
FRAZIER: Coming off pretty quickly now, Frank, but we're going to try to keep up with the arrivals and connect the right names with the right pictures. You'll have to forgive us at home if we mix up a few. But the important thing are the pictures. We'll let those play out.
FRAZIER: You can see when they take that high picture next that there's a long line of dignitaries here. They are various commanders for the Pacific region, commanders for the patrol and reconnaissance division, and then, a number of civilian officials, the governor of the state, the two senators, a number of representatives, the mayor -- two mayors, in fact. And then the families.
BUCKLEY: And Stephen, you know, as you look at the list of the members of this crew, you really get a sense of how the military is populated. I believe that's the senior chief there?
ROSE: Yes, it is. BUCKLEY: A friend of yours, isn't he?
ROSE: He sure is. He's a friend of all the chiefs up here in this community, and we're awful, awful proud of him. I understand he was really a stabilizing force. He's the senior enlisted guy on that air crew. And I'll tell you, it's a good feeling.
BUCKLEY: As I was staying, Stephen, you get the sense of the -- of the cross-section of America that is represented into military service. You have people from Florida, Montana, California, Pennsylvania, different ethnic backgrounds. And clearly, people of different parts of the country coming together to serve in the U.S. military, and serving as a cohesive unit in -- never more important than in a crisis situation, I suspect, master chief?
ROSE: Oh, absolutely. You know, we certainly did not have a lack of support, people that wanted to help, make sure that this was a class act. Just a lot of Herculean effort went into this. And whenever something like this does happen, and of course, it hasn't been to this degree on this base, but we all seem to come together in a big way. And...
FRAZIER: In fact, Frank...
ROSE: It's greet to see the Navy do that.
FRAZIER: I'm sorry, Frank. The first admiral to greet the crew as they step off is a Native American from Lumberton, North Carolina. And that's not even a coastal area of that state. That does show you the diversity of the issue.
BUCKLEY: Right. I believe we are near the end of the crew members coming off. We may have a couple of additional people. If that was in fact Wendy Westbrook, we will have Rodney Young, as well as Sergeant Richard Pray of the Marine Corps and Curtis Towne of the U.S. Air Force.
Tell us, sir, you have 22 members of this crew who are U.S. Navy, one Marine, one Air Force person. Tell us why you have the additional services represented on the plane.
ROSE: I don't know that I'm qualified to talk too much about it. But I do know that the other services has something to do with intelligence gathering, stuff like that.
FRAZIER: You saw Kenneth Richter walking by there, Frank -- his own sister a member of Congress, a representative from Staten Island, deeply involved in the congressional response to all of this.
BUCKLEY: Stephen, as you see, this scene with the baby, you really get a sense of how the deployments involve families. They are not just -- these are not just servicemen who are out there single. We're talking about families. Entire families are affected by these deployments.
FRAZIER: Well, Frank, go ahead and tell us of your own experiences, you the son of a master chief yourself. What was it like when he came home?
BUCKLEY: I guess that's why it is kind of tough to watch this.
FRAZIER: These are wonderful titles. This is aviation electronics technician second class Ramon Mercado. Other names like cryptologic technician -- you just wonder what they do.
That, we believe, is the Marine sergeant, Richard Pray, from Geneseo, Illinois -- of course, these parents and family members brought here from all around the country by the Navy for this event.
BUCKLEY: And, Stephen, we're told that these service members will be allowed to take up to 30 days of leave. But the military is doing their best to suggest that some of them return maybe even earlier than that, so that they can return to normal. I guess that's the thinking now.
ROSE: Get engaged. Just like a pilot that might have had a bad experience, you want to get him back into the cockpit as soon as you can. And I think that's the idea.
FRAZIER: We believe that's Brandon Funk we're looking at there: cryptologic technician second class Funk. He was fluent in Chinese by the age of 17, finished high school 17 months earlier, to show you the kind of capabilities today's military are bringing to the service.
BUCKLEY: A lot of emotion here, Stephen, even among the reporters covering this -- especially this one.
FRAZIER: Well, we're glad to hear that. It is an emotional moment. What you're not seeing are the skills that these young people brought. We are beginning to get some background stories to these individuals from their local papers, for example, places where they grew up -- all amazing, highly talented youngsters.
BUCKLEY: Well, we heard today from the senior chief, who is talking about the level of training that they all receive and how that kicked in. And you hear that from people, especially in aviation, when there is a crisis moment that, because of the constant drilling, the constant training that, when there is a crisis, it is second nature. This was a case where Lieutenant Shane Osborn found his plane heavily damaged. It, as he put it, went into a 130-degree tilt. And it dropped some 7,500 feet.
And, somehow, the crew was able to right that plane and take some steps to bring it down safely. And the senior chief was saying earlier at Hickam Air Force Base that, if not for that training, this press conference would have been about something else.
FRAZIER: A chilling remark, as he spoke at Hickam Air Force Base, saying he looked up through the window and saw water as he looked up. BUCKLEY: Can't imagine that feeling. You know, I guess we've all -- all of us who have flown, we feel the plane when it tilts to take a big broad turn or something. But I can't imagine that we ever go 130 degrees, do we, Master Chief?
ROSE: Well, that would be an awful scary thing, that's for sure. But they fly a lot. And, as you said, they train, train, train, so when the real thing comes, it is on automatic; it is on pilot.
And they certainly rose to the occasion. You know, and sometimes, you never know how people are going to act until they have been through something like that. But, you know, this crew obviously showed they are a class act.
FRAZIER: Let's bring in Admiral McGinn, who himself is a naval aviator. That angle at which the plane was falling, Admiral, was very close to the -- I guess they call it the inversion, where the plane loses its ability to recover, isn't that right?
MCGINN: It was very close to being inverted, Stephen, and not a usual attitude, flight attitude for this type of aircraft. It required a great deal of skill on the part of Lieutenant Osborn and his co-pilot and his flight engineer to get it straightened out, particularly given the disadvantage of not having an airspeed indicator, having control difficulties due to the damage to the airplane. So they just did a marvelous job, everybody, individually in their crew stations, and more importantly, working together as a team to bring that aircraft safely to deck.
FRAZIER: Well, that kind of insight just reinforces what Frank Buckley was saying a moment ago, that these are especially heartfelt greetings when you know what these crew members have been through, how close they came to ending their lives during that flight.
MCGINN: I'm sure that Senior Chief Mellos was a key leader in conducting that crew as well. We conduct a tremendous amount of individual skills training, as our sailors, Marines and airmen come along. But it all has to come together in a team. And when we have the kind of fine senior enlisted leadership like Senior Chief Nick Mellos, it really solidifies all of those individual skills into a wonderful team.
FRAZIER: In fact, it's our understanding that he was the one who called out to Lieutenant Osborn that he had to get it under control first and worry about other things later.
MCGINN: Absolutely. Aviate, navigate, communicate is the rules in an emergency.
MCGINN: And sometimes, that is hard to do.
FRAZIER: We are at a moment in the ceremony here now, Admiral, where -- and I believe you're able see this as we speak -- where we get a little bit of a break after these official greetings and the family greetings, just a brief pause as everyone moves inside Hangar 6.
That's where Frank Buckley is now, where they will all gather for the official welcoming ceremony.
Because of this little pause in the actual activities, we're going to take a break ourselves here and catch our breath. And we will rejoin our viewers after this short break.
FRAZIER: Welcome back to our special coverage of the U.S. crew's homecoming at Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, Washington. I'm Stephen Frazier at CNN center in Atlanta. We are Joined by Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, who's in our Washington office; also Master Chief Richard Rose, who's with our correspondent Frank Buckley inside hangar six at Whidbey Island.
And these are some of the scenes we've been witness to in the past few moments as the crew is greeted, not only by Navy brass and civilian officials, but by the people waiting for them since their deployment: Their families and close friends.
Sometimes the family is Navy brass.
Remember, each time these families say good-bye to a crew member, they know that these are scenes that might not be. That they are sending their family members into potential harm's way, and that they may never see them again. That's why the especially powerful homecoming.
Frank Buckley has been watching all of the events from up close. He's joining us now from hangar 6. And in the picture there, we also see Master Chief Richard Rose -- Gentlemen.
BUCKLEY: Stephen, quite an emotional scene for us to watch here at hangar six. If you were just outside of the location where you saw that C-9 pull up. And I've got to ask you, your impressions as you saw that happening.
MASTER CHIEF RICHARD ROSE: It was just awesome. We have been waiting for this, hyped up for it all week long. Preparing for it, and to actually see a plan come together, a lot of hard work went into this. We're glad to do it. Just an incredibly great feeling.
BUCKLEY: And there is a great deal of uncertainty that certainly you experienced, others members of this military community experienced, but certainly the members of the dependents -- the dependents of these service members must have felt it more than anything. Your sense of what you've heard from family members and those who have been dealing directly with the family members.
ROSE: Well, they definitely felt like they got lots of support, probably more support than they really wanted. They kind of huddled together as a group, as a support group -- all the families.
We certainly offered counseling and anything that we felt may be of need to them. But VQ-1, that squadron, did a fantastic job of helping them through a very tough situation.
BUCKLEY: And we should tell our viewers that those returning service members are receiving, in fact, gift baskets that have been prepared by members of this community, the community putting together gift baskets. They've put together some 100 gift baskets for not only the service members, but their families who have come in from around the nation, brought in by the U.S. military to make sure that the reunions that we just witnessed would take place, so that a service member wouldn't get off the plane and not have a family member waiting for him or her when they came off the plane.
Right now, the mass of people that we've been seeing just outside of hangar six are beginning the slow process of moving inside. I believe you've set up some 10,000 seats in preparation for this group. Tell me about that undertaking.
ROSE: It was massive. We planned, like I said, all week to do this. And it took that kind of effort to make this come together, and, as I said earlier, the big challenge was really to make sure that we weren't duplicating efforts. But we met twice a day for an hour to two hours to plan this thing. And, you know, all the hard work -- and I'll tell you, there was no detail too small. The devil is in the details -- and that's where we were. We were down there. It took all of that to make this happen.
FRAZIER: Master chief -- I'm sorry, Frank, it's Frazier here in Atlanta. We heard Master Chief mention VQ-1, which is the official name of this squadron. Let's, if we can, bring in Admiral Mcginn for a minute to talk a little bit about the history of this squadron.
Their emblem, Admiral, is a bat, which I guess shows a little bit of their function. You know, the echo location of the bat reflecting the eavesdropping capabilities of this squadron. The first ever employed for electronic reconnaissance and the first, also, dedicated to electronic warfare.
MCGINN: That's right, Stephen. They have been doing a superb job in VQ-1 for many, many years. They're now, of course, in the Aries 2 airplane. Before that they had an earlier version of the P-3 and it goes all the way back to super constellation days where we had similar aircraft, large aircraft that had the right kind of configurations to be able to do this surveillance and reconnaissance in international airspace just as this flight was doing on the first of April.
FRAZIER: VQ-1 has amassed almost 1,400 combat flight hours. a 100 percent mission completion rate. We came close to breaking that record. But that's an amazing record indeed.
MCGINN: It really is, and it just doesn't happen. It's a result of a lot of hard work, a lot of taking a look at risks, at taking a look at the small details, as Master Chief Rose mentioned earlier in his planning for today's events. But having the whole team effort come together and get everybody's job done and get the team's job done. But that is a very, very impressive record. FRAZIER: Tell me whether you're comfortable discussing this, Admiral, but I think some of the capabilities of this plane and the entire squadron are astounding. Not only do they gather intelligence, but based on some of the research available to us here, they are trained in a system to intercept enemy transmission -- during war time now, not during peace time -- and then alter the meaning of that transmission and retransmit it in the original operator's voice, in other words, they can send out bogus communications called "spoofing." Tell us some more about this.
MCGINN: Well, I think -- I appreciate your understanding that I can't go into a great deal of detail about that and the reason for it is fairly clear. We have capabilities across all of our armed services that we want to make sure that we keep the capability known to us, but not to others.
Because if they were widely known, they just wouldn't be as effective. So I think many of the capabilities in all of our services and all of the branches of the services fall into that category.
FRAZIER: We may have mentioned that some of the members of crew actually speak Chinese. But the cryptologists, we're told, whether they speak another language or not, they know key military terms in the languages that matter, and annotate tapes and send them on to the intelligence agencies.
MCGINN: I know that they are tremendously talented young Americans. They go to extensive school. Their entry level scores when they come in to the armed services, in particular in to the Navy, are extremely high. You mentioned earlier some of the background with the families in the home towns indicating that these are very, very bright, talented and dedicated people who come in to the service of the nation as part of the Navy, and in this case, the Air Force and the Marines.
And we're very, very proud of the dedication that they have. The commitment to service that they have, and the tremendous job that they do.
FRAZIER: Wonderful pictures here. We're watching, Admiral, as you speak, we'd like to step away here for a break, and as we do so we'd like to welcome our viewers who may be dialing in to see the CAPITAL GANG. Of course, this special programming is going to preempt CAPITAL GANG tonight.
But they will be on the air at a special edition tomorrow at 2:00 in tomorrow afternoon. With that we will step away and we'll be back in just a moment.
FRAZIER: Welcome back to our special programming. This is the scene at Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island Washington, hangar six. Our Frank Buckley is standing by inside the hangar. We are also joined by Master Chief Richard Rose with Frank and Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn who is watching all this from Washington and giving us some professional insights into what all this means.
Frank, a large wheat field where everybody's gathered here. This was a wheat field at one time and then was converted to tarmac after they made the conversion from a sea-plane base.
BUCKLEY: And a funny thing about the lore of this military base, the first time apparently they tried to bring a sea plane in it had to land some five miles out because there were too many logs in the harbor. So it has a long and interesting history. It's called Ault Field, the actual landing strip here. And people are -- there's a great history the to this airfield, dating back to the 1940's.
Right now we can tell you that the hangar is starting to fill up. There are enough seats for about 10,000 people we are told. But I can also tell you that just outside of hangar 6 there are still at least, I would say, a couple thousand people waiting to get in, hoping to get in. They are trying to move the people in in groups. They would like to see this air crew up close and they would like to hear from some of the dignitaries that are slated to speak.
Earlier today we can tell you that speaking was Lieutenant Shane Osborn, and this was before he boarded the C-9 in Hawaii for the five hour journey here to NAS Whidbey Island. He talked to reporters during brief comments there. And we got a better sense for the first time from him about how difficult it was for him to land that aircraft once it was involved in the collision. And maybe we can listen in to what Lieutenant Shane Osborn had to say earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Did you have any previous experience with this pilot and what are the gestures you are referring to?
OSBORN: I can't really get into that. They've -- you know, we've had a past history of some aggressive intercepts. Obviously that you've seen the footage. And we can't get into specific pilot- to-pilot.
QUESTION: Thoughts about the pilot that is missing and presumed dead. Any thoughts about him to his family?
OSBORN: We saw a chute. His wing man RTB -- returned to base -- before we even got there, and that's all I know. And then we -- we had our hands full.
QUESTION: The Chinese say that they heard no mayday calls from you. Can you tell me, did you make the mayday calls, how many did you make and do you have any indication at all that they may have heard them?
OSBORN: We had holes in our pressure bulkhead, lots of wind noise. Due to that -- I was keeping the speed up, pretty good because I had no airspeed indication. I spun up my inertia to get a ground speed indication to kind of give me a rough guess. We made at least 15 mayday calls over 243.0 guard frequency, and I know we were transmitting. So I can't tell you what they heard and what they didn't because I wasn't in their tower.
QUESTION: Once you all were able to land the aircraft, what happened next? Were there any words from you and your crew there to everyone else? What was happening on the ground?
OSBORN: It was -- a lot of people in shock at that point. My biggest thing was to shift gears from just bringing this plane in, getting it down. It's a pretty big relief to get it landed. And then getting it shut down, there was someone was there to taxi us off and park us. And it was basically -- by the time the engines were shut down they were already at the door to talk to someone and I wanted to be the first one to talk to them, so I didn't get a real chance to talk to the crew. I just had to go back and address them.
QUESTION: Could you tell us what went through your mind when the plane struck your propeller, and second, could you and perhaps the chief give us a kind of a physical picture of what was going on as you tried to get the plane stabilized and take it in.
OSBORN: OK, the first thing I thought was this guy just killed us. The plane snap rolled to about 130 degrees angle of bank, which is getting near the inverted side. I remember looking up and seeing water when I lifted the head up. And then I also saw another plane smoking towards the Earth with flames coming out.
And Senior yelled at me to get control of it. I had full rudder, full aileron but I wasn't getting any response, but I had about 30 degrees nose down. So, the plane was in an almost inverted dive, and as the airspeed came on the plane slowly, slowly rolled out with heavy, serious vibration problems, because that prop was still spinning with part of it missing. Obviously out of balance, so once I got wings-level I was still very concerned, and still didn't, at that point, think we were going to be able to get the plane down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BUCKLEY: But clearly Lieutenant Shane Osborn was able to bring it down. Joining me again, Mater Chief Richard Rose, as you listen to Shane Osborn tell that story, it is amazing that that plane was somehow able to land safely. We've talked a little bit about the training that these crewmen go through and what to do in a case like this where you are, not necessarily "captured by the enemy" but in a situation where you are not allowed to leave, what is it that the crew does to prepare for that moment?
ROSE: I can speak to the training that they go through. Not only do they go through air crew training, they also go to survival, evasion, reconnaissance and escape training. And that's pretty intensive. And again we talked about train, train, train. And then it becomes automatic.
But it gives them the survival skills that they need, should they ever find themselves in that kind of a situation.
BUCKLEY: We were talking earlier about the fact that, yes, as members of the military you know that you could be in dangerous situations, and we in the civilian world think of military people being in harm's way during wartime, but fact is, these kinds of reconnaissance flights are going on all the time.
ROSE: All the time, and we know just in doing our job it's inherent that we face danger. And we know that going into it, but I think sometimes you just take it for granted, you train, train, train. Seems like that's all you do, but you thank God that you did all that training when the rubber meets the road and the balloon goes up, so to speak.
BUCKLEY: Right now we are seeing the members of this community filling the hangar. The members of the crew are standing by outside of the hangar. We are expecting them to arrive. Once they have the seats filled here, they will bring the crew members into the hangar. We're expecting them to walk down a red carpet right through the middle of the hangar for what we expect will be yet another emotional moment here, and I suspect, thunderous applause as they come through this hangar six here.
I don't even know what hangar six is normally used for. What -- what do you usually...
ROSE: Well this where they bring the P-3s and the EP-3's in to perform maintenance, and so a lot of work goes on in these hangars.
BUCKLEY: OK, thank you very much Master Chief Rose. Stephen, let me throw it back to you for a second.
FRAZIER: Frank, I'm not sure we're going to take it away from you there. We're going to continue looking at the pictures. As you can see, that's Lieutenant Shane Osborn at the head of the line of the crew members. And they have come into sight now of the people who have taken their seats. And so we expect that with that signal there that they'll soon be coming down the red carpet.
BUCKLEY: Yes, they are -- we can now see them at the front here of hangar six. And they are preparing to go inside. They are being announced. We can tell you that hangar is full, and it's standing room only. There are people also located outside of the hangar. We are expecting the invocation, and we will let the program speak for itself shortly here, when it begins.
Master chief, any thoughts as you see these crewmen?
ROSE: I'm sorry?
BUCKLEY: Any thoughts as you see these crewmen here?
ROSE: Well, a bunch of brave men and women right there that done their country proud, absolutely.
FRAZIER: And now the Navy brass is being announced, Frank, as they come down the red carpet. I just heard them announce Admiral Michael Holmes. Visible now the mayor. All of the region's congressmen. BUCKLEY: We can tell you, Stephen, that the number of political leaders that are present -- a number of them were slated to speak at one point, and the program changed constantly over the past 24 hours, and ultimately we believe that we will only hear remarks from two of them. They will come from Patty Cohen, the mayor of Oak Harbor, which is where we are, this community, and also Gary Locke, the governor of the state of Washington. And now we are about to see the crew.
FRAZIER: They will be announced, Frank, and we will listen and watch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, VQ-1 combat reconnaissance crew one.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lieutenant Shane Osborn.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lieutenant Patrick Honeck.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lieutenant Marcia Sonon. Lieutenant Junior Grade Jeffrey Vignery. Lieutenant Junior Grade John Comerford. Lieutenant Junior Grade Regina Kauffman. Lieutenant Junior Grade Richard Payne. Ensign Richard Bensing. Senior Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Mellos. Petty Officer First Class Shawn Coursen. Petty Officer Second Class Josef Edmunds. Petty Officer Second Class Wendy Westbrook. Petty Officer Second Class Kenneth Richter. Petty Officer Second Class David Cecka. Petty Officer Second Class Ramon Mercado. Sergeant Richard Pray. Petty Officer Second Class Brandon Funk. Petty Officer Second Class Jason Hanser. Petty officer Second Class Scott Guidry. Senior Airman Curtis Towne. Petty Officer Third Class Steven Blocher. Petty Officer Third Class Rodney Young. Petty Officer Third Class Jeremy Crandall. Seaman Bradford Borland.
March on the colors.
FRAZIER: Presentation of the colors wrapping up there. We're expecting an invocation by Lieutenant John Conrow, the chaplain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lieutenant John Conrow (ph), Naval Air Station Whidbey Island chaplain will now deliver the invocation.
LIEUTENANT JOHN CONROW, CHAPLAIN, WHIDBEY ISLAND: Let us pray. Gracious God, we come to you this joyous day as a grateful nation and give thanks to you and praise for the safe return of our 24 shipmates.
We thank you for giving them the ability to use their gifts and to call to mind their training in their time of crisis, and for watching over them in their time of captivity. We give thanks for all those involved in bringing this to a peaceful resolution. For those in our community and throughout our great land who offered their prayers and for the great outpouring of support to all involved.
Bless our celebration with your presence and faithfulness. We pray in your mercy. Amen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the guests please be seated.
FRAZIER: The welcoming remarks to be delivered by Rear Admiral Vincent Smith.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rear Admiral Vinson Smith, commander, Navy region Northwest.
REAR ADMIRAL VINSON SMITH, COMMANDER, NORTHWEST REGION: Good afternoon, Rear Admiral Holmes. Governor Locke. Senators Murray and Cantwell. Representatives Dicks, Inslee and Larsen. Mayor Cohen. Honorable elected officials. General Shalikashvili. Distinguished guests. Families, friends, and especially to NSGA Misawa, VQ-1 and team Whidbey.
On behalf of our servicemen and women, their families and civil service personnel of the Pacific Northwest, welcome to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SMITH: To all Americans, thank you for your unwavering support. And a special thanks to all who have helped to make this day possible.
We are honored by your presence as we celebrate the safe return and family reunion of VQ-1 and NSGA Misawa combat reconnaissance crew one.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SMITH: Twenty-four young, brave Americans, all heroes.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SMITH: As we honor these brave men and women, I just want to remind you that there are thousands just like them, soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines and coast guardsmen, America's finest. Deployed around the world, proudly serving their country. To them and their families, I would also like to say thank you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SMITH: This being the Easter weekend, I will close with Psalms 118, verse 24. "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice, and be glad in it." Welcome home, crew one! Thank you!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rear Admiral Michael Holmes, commander of patrol and reconnaissance forces, U.S. Pacific fleet.
REAR ADMIRAL MICHAEL HOLMES, COMMANDER, PACIFIC RECONNAISSANCE FLEET: Well, good afternoon, families, friends, sailors, distinguished guests. To our congressional delegation, state and local officials, thank you for joining us on this happy occasion.
On behalf of the men, women of patrol reconnaissance force Pacific and the United States Navy, it is my honor and privilege to welcome home this courageous air crew of 24 young Americans.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HOLMES: Throughout the past two weeks, the nation has anxiously awaited your return. During that timeframe, we learned of your heroic actions that gave all Americans reason to be proud.
From the extraordinary display of airmanship, cool head work and excellent crew coordination, to your exemplary conduct while held for 11 days in detention, your actions made us all proud to be Americans.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HOLMES: The pilot and mission commander, Lieutenant Shane Osborn.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HOLMES: I promised my speech was only going to be three minutes.
Shane had three options after the F-8 collided into his aircraft. Bail out, ditch, or quickly attempt to land. I firmly believe that no course of action other than the course that he took would have ensured all 24 crew members being here this afternoon.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HOLMES: Lieutenant Osborn made the right decisions, and I credit him with saving the lives of his crew.
But he will tell you first off that every mission in his aircraft requires a total team effort. His crew is comprised not only of VQ-1 personnel, but also of members from the Naval Security Group detachment out of Misawa, Japan, and with Air Force and Marine personnel from Okinawa, Japan. Their efforts helped form the total crew concept that played a major role in bringing this mission to a safe landing.
Lieutenant Osborn's courageous actions and those of his air crew speaks volumes about their training, their dedication and their professionalism, and demonstrated the true meaning of honor, courage and commitment.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HOLMES: Now of course, their stellar action comes as no surprise to me, their boss. Because excellence is a hallmark of this great squadron. That is why VQ-1 is this year's winner of the Navy's battle efficiency award, a prestigious award that recognizes a squadron as the overall best aviation squadron in their category in the Pacific fleet. Congratulations, VQ-1! Good on you!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HOLMES: Our nation is proud to have men and women in the armed forces the same high caliber of the 24 in front of you this afternoon. Men and women who willingly put their lives at risk at any given moment, defending the ideals of freedom.
Our citizens can live their lives in peace and prosperity, secure in the knowledge that servicemen and women like you are standing watch around the world every day.
In the Navy, we often use the expression "have a great Navy day." Today, all Americans are celebrating a great day, a great Navy day, a great Marine Corps day, a great Air Force day, because our brave air crew is back in the USA.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HOLMES: All of America welcomes you home to your loved ones. I commend you, your respective services commend you, and a grateful nation commends you for a job well done. God bless you, God bless your families, and God bless the United States of America! Thank you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The honorable Patty Cohen, mayor of Oak Harbor.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
PATTY COHEN, MAYOR OF OAK HARBOR: Honored and distinguished guests, friends and family of team Whidbey and this awesome crew of 24. Welcome.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
COHEN: I want to extend to all of you a warm and heartfelt welcome to Oak Harbor Whidbey Island, Washington. We are overjoyed to be able to host you for this auspicious event.
To the families, we congratulate and thank you for sharing these very special individuals with us. From the community of Oak Harbor, we want you to know that they are our adopted sons and daughters. They represent not only their families and their community, but especially their country with great dignity and pride. They are most certainly an incredible group of young people, and they are a pleasure to have as part of our community.
While the focus today is on our 24 VQ-1 personnel, and we welcome you home with open arms, from the perspective of Oak Harbor, all of our naval air station personnel, as well as all of you who wear a United States military uniform, are heroes. We appreciate you... (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
COHEN: We appreciate you each and every day. Today, I am proud to be able to present to the VQ-1 squadron a resolution that was passed by the Washington State Senate yesterday, commemorating your homecoming on behalf of Senator Mary Margaret Haugen who was unable to attend today's homecoming.
At the conclusion of this event, I will be presenting copies to Bernard O. Lessard, VQ-1 commanding officer. I would also like to read for you now a proclamation from the city of Oak Harbor in recognition of today's homecoming welcome.
And the proclamation: "Whereas the city of Oak Harbor is respectful and thankful for your swift and safe return to our community, and whereas we extend every assurance to you that the community of Oak Harbor has extended themselves to support and shield your families during this time of external focus and internal uncertainty.
And whereas, as we welcome the community, the nation and the world to Oak Harbor for this joyous occasion, we want to acknowledge our great honor in being home to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and our pride in the American mission that is served by our military personnel here.
Whereas, as elected officials, we are humbled when we compare the service we provide the community to the risks our military personnel perform in the name of our national honor, integrity and American freedom.
Whereas, collectively, you are the foundation of our community. You are the coaches on our soccer teams, you are the tutors in our schools, you are the deacons in our churches. Truly, you are the heart and soul of Oak Harbor, and we are so grateful for your safe return home.
Whereas, over the past 14 days, your conduct has exemplified your conviction in your service, your strong personal character and your pride in serving our country, and whereas I am honored to walk in the presence of you who protect my rights and privileges as an American citizen.
Whereas, to all of you who wear our military uniforms, you are the heroes every day you proudly and quietly serve our country. And whereas...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
COHEN: Whereas, we, the community of Oak Harbor, carry you in our hearts wherever your missions may take you.
Now, therefore, we the mayor and the city council of the city of Oak Harbor, are honored to present this proclamation to the servicemen and women of VQ-1 and do hereby proclaim Saturday, April the 14th, year 2001, as VQ-1 homecoming recognition day in the city of Oak Harbor. And we invite you to join this community in officially welcoming home by serving as our honorary grand marshals in the 2001 haul and happening parade on April the 28th.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
COHEN: Naval air station personnel VQ-1, we are so proud of you and the mission you serve.
In closing, I want to leave you with a statement from General Lee's April 10th, 1865 farewell speech to the Confederate Army. While he spoke of surrender of the Confederacy, the passion of the cause was not minimized. In his speech, he said: "Take with you the satisfaction, the proceeds of the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection, as we wish with you always when you serve this country, godspeed."
Captain Salter, Captain Marriott, Captain Squash (ph), Colonel Bergen (ph), the city of Oak Harbor proudly serves the men and women of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The honorable Gary Locke, governor of the state of Washington.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
GOV. GARY LOCKE (D), WASHINGTON: Admiral Smith, Admiral Holmes, Senators Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, Congressman Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Mayor Cohen, all the distinguished guests, including former Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staffs General Shalikashvili, all the members of our military, the members of VQ-1 and their families and the people of the state of Washington, what a great day this is!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
LOCKE: Today, America welcomes 24 of her sons and daughters back home!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
LOCKE: During the briefing, just before the plane landed bringing back our 24 members of VQ-1, Commander Marriott said that this is going to be a day of a lot of loving and kissing. And we saw that.
Well, over the last few days, all Americans have felt like members of one large extended family, a family that gathered together anxiously around TV sets, that listened to news reports over family meals, and explained to school-age children why an entire nation held its breath and said its prayers for the fate of Whidbey 24, 24 of our nation's finest.
America held her breath not only because you are her servicemen and women, but because we also knew that every seat on that aircraft was occupied by and every person detained was someone's child, a parent, or a loved one. For 11 days, the concerns of your wives, your husbands, your children, your parents, your loved ones were folded into the prayers of one united but anxious nation.
I had the chance to meet some of your spouses and loved ones and family members last week. Just as we are proud of you, you should be proud of your family members. They led with great heroism themselves.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
LOCKE: We're here today to honor the skill and the bravery of the pilots and crew members that performed a near miracle in bringing the plane under control in the midst of hellacious circumstance. The entire crew performed its duty in having the wits and just the few minutes that you had to destroy sensitive equipment and information. We are so proud of a duty well performed.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
LOCKE: As Americans -- as Americans, we can look as this as a crisis averted, and say that our government rose to the occasion and succeeded. We overcame the obstacles and brought these 24 brave men and women home. -And we can only say to ourselves that this success can serve as a model for the peaceful resolution of future challenges.
Today, we celebrate all across America. Today, the yellow ribbons come down, and we wave our flags in celebration and thanksgiving, thanksgiving for your safe return to your families and your country. A day of lot of loving and a lot of kissing.
You 24 men and women represent America's finest. And you are home. You carried out your mission with honor and courage. And because of you, you 24, America is a proud and grateful nation. To each and every one of you, thank you. To each and everyone of your family members, thank you. To all of you, God bless you, and God bless America!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lieutenant Shane Osborn, mission commander, combat and reconnaissance crew one.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OSBORN: Thank you. Thank you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OSBORN: Thank you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OSBORN: I just have a short couple words I'd like to say. First of all, I'd like to thank God for allowing my crew and myself to be here today. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OSBORN: Because it was definitely him flying that plane. And I would also like to thank my 23 other crewmates who, without them, I wouldn't be standing here right now.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OSBORN: They performed far and above beyond the call of duty, and made me very proud, and should make everyone of you proud.
I would also like to thank the administration, my chain of command, everyone in Hawaii on getting us home, getting us home quickly. I also want to thank the families for coming out here and for all the tickets provided by several donors, including the government and Mr. Perot. And I'd also like to thank everyone for being here.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OSBORN: This welcome home is overwhelming for all of us, but we do appreciate it. We do appreciate it a lot. We didn't know for a while whether or not anyone knew, besides the top officials, and we're glad that you're all here, and it just confirms what we all believe, that the spirit is still strong in the United States of America. Thank you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the guests please rise for the benediction, retiring of the colors and departure of the official party.
CONROW: Let us pray. Send us forth with your blessing, oh Lord, that we may continue to serve faithfully, each in our own capacity according to the gifts you have given us.
Be with those who have returned today, with their spouses and children, and with all the family here gathered, that this time of reunion may be a time of peace and restoration.
May the days ahead be a time of healing between nations. Thank you for the many ways you have blessed our great nation. Be with each of us and guide us in our daily lives according to your good and gracious will. We pray in you eternal name. Amen.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Retire the colors.
FRAZIER: And as the colors are retired at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and the official party, as they are called, depart hangar six, we'd like to let you know that our special coverage of this homecoming ceremony will continue in a moment, including a news conference, which will bring us the comments of six members of the crew from whom we haven't heard yet. All that still to come, but now we're going to retire ourselves to a commercial break, and we'll be back after this.
FRAZIER: Welcome back to our special coverage of the crew of the homecoming of the U.S. that has been detained in China. Pictures now of Lieutenant Shane Osborn, the commander of that EP-3 plane, which has been detained on Hainan Island, as he got off the plane at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, and was greeted by two admirals and the governor of the state there, shaking his hands.
And then these scenes, which followed Lieutenant Osborn's arrival, as one by one, all 24 members of the crew came off the plane and were greeted, first by the officials, and then as you can see there, by family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's join David Cecka right now and hear what he has to say about his mission.
TECHNICIAN DAVID CECKA, U.S. NAVY: It's unbelievable. I have no words for this. This is -- so proud of our country and everyone here and our families, and it's just amazing. Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The commander said at one point that there was some concern among the crew members that you didn't even know whether or not people knew about your situation, is that right?
CECKA: There was -- there was a time -- there was a time we weren't sure. But now we know. Thank you very much.
FRAZIER: Well, we just heard there from Aviation Electronics Technician Second Class David Cecka, a little impromptu comment.
We believe that six others members of the crew will have slightly more formal remarks, and as we're waiting for those, let's turn to our national correspondent Frank Buckley who has been inside hangar six along with Master Chief Richard Rose through all of this. Frank, what did you think of the ceremony that just wrapped up here?
BUCKLEY: Well, Stephen, the ceremony itself was military precision. We thought we might be here long past 6:00 p.m. local time, and in fact, we are wrapping this up with a half-hour before the 6:00 hour, so it wrapped up fairly quickly.
I suspect that most of the people here were most interested in those reunions that we had a chance to see, and we keep talking about how moved we were by it, but it was an incredible scene, and something that military families go through time and time again.
ROSE: They sure do. As I said earlier, I've been through so many of these, and it's truly heartwarming to be a part of it. We worked so hard to make this come off like it did. I think it was a huge success. And great show of support for the VQ-1 crew, and I'll tell you, you look around and you see all the community and how they have responded -- fantastic. BUCKLEY: You are a command master chief, you are a leader of mostly young men and women, and your advice and guidance is very important to them in their development, in their military careers. What lessons might you provide from this entire episode to them? What will you say to them about this, and what would you like them to learn from it?
ROSE: Well, I think it's just important that they understand that when something like this happens, that we have to come together as a team. Because, you know, individually, we're all pretty good, but together we form as a team, we're unbeatable. And we have a saying here at Naval Air Station Whidbey "team Whidbey," and I think what we saw here today was a reflection of that.
BUCKLEY: This kind of thing maybe goes beyond the initial reaction here on the base. It's obviously something that is felt by the community. This is a military community. We've talked about that. There are 10,000 members in the military family here on the base, but then, you have an entire community outside the gates of this military base, and just by their appearance here, it's clearly affected them as well.
ROSE: Well it is -- we are a really tight-knit community. Whidbey Island here specifically and Oak Harbor -- you know, you're either a Navy person or you are a family member of somebody that's in the Navy, or you're a neighbor of somebody that is in the Navy. And so, we understand how important it is, and that's why I love being here at Whidbey Island so much, is just because of that.
BUCKLEY: In a sense -- and I don't know that either of us is qualified to answer this, but for Lieutenant Shane Osborn, he is now being held to this great standard, everyone is calling him a hero. How will he adjust back into military life as a lieutenant, as a pilot of this kind of aircraft? Will it be difficult for him to transition back to the anonymity of being a lieutenant and being someone who simply serves?
ROSE: Well, the great thing about being in the military is we have a lot of camaraderie that you may not see everywhere else. And because of that support system, he is going to be in good hands, and he is going to be OK. But he certainly has been tagged as somebody that is going to go places.
BUCKLEY: The base CO was asked yesterday by one of the reporters, how will this affect the careers of the people here, and he remarked that it won't hurt the careers, I guess, of any of these personnel.
ROSE: I agree with my boss 100 percent on that one, absolutely.
BUCKLEY: We've talked a bit about how this will affect people emotionally as well, and it seems as though we're hearing from the mental health officials in the military that the goal now isn't necessarily to put these people on a pedestal, but to integrate them back into their lives immediately, is that right? ROSE: Right. Well -- it's absolutely right. You know, we certainly have got a support network up here of health care providers, mental health, got a very good chaplain department on the base, but we think it is important that they get right into the -- back into the mix of being in the squadron and flying again, and all those good things.
BUCKLEY: Master chief, thanks very much for helping guide us through this today. We appreciate it.
ROSE: Frank, it's been a pleasure, thank you.
BUCKLEY: Stephen, back to you.
FRAZIER: Frank, thank you. Master chief, thank you.
As master chief said, great mental health people there, great chaplain and a great Navy band, but we were able to hear you loud and clear despite of all the music they were generating.
As we mentioned, some members of the crew will be commenting at a news conference in just a moment. We're going to take a break in advance of that, catch up a little bit, and we'll return in advance of their comments with some more insights from Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn who's been watching all of this ceremony from Washington, and who has been providing us with an awful lot of background on what things mean. So, stay with us, we'll be back after this.
FRAZIER: Welcome back to our extend coverage of this U.S. crew homecoming. I'm Stephen Frazier at CNN center in Atlanta and I'm joined by Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, who has been watching all the ceremony from his post in Washington. Admiral, I'd like to ask a couple questions about the things said by Lieutenant Shane Osborn as he was speaking there. A very, very dramatic description of how many maydays they issued after they controlled the plane.
And that is significant isn't it not, for events as we go forward. Because issuing a distress signal helps ease the sense that a plane would be violating sovereign airspace under other circumstances.
MCGINN: Absolutely, Stephen. That was clearly an aircraft in distress. With 25 lives at stake, Lieutenant Osborn did exactly what he should have done. He exercised absolutely wonderful judgment in making the right choice of those three choices that Admiral Holmes mentioned. And complied with all of the procedures that you would as an aircraft commander of an aircraft that was badly damaged, through no fault of your own, and got that aircraft safely on deck.
Truly extraordinary circumstances and I think the mayday calls and all of the procedures, the circling approach to the airfield at Hainan were on the mark.
FRAZIER: Tell us what rights a plane in distress has when it is confronted with the idea of sovereign airspace that may be very jealously guarded.
MCGINN: It's fairly well covered in international law and international flight regulations that an aircraft in distress has priority over just about any other thing going on. And you can't stand on the niceties of sovereign airspace when there's a vessel in distress. I think the course of action chosen by Lieutenant Osborn was right on the mark.
FRAZIER: I think Lieutenant Osborn made some news also in his remarks at Hickam Field where he talked about seeing a chute of Wang Wei, the F-8 pilot from China. I don't think we had heard that prior to his comments.
MCGINN: I had not heard that either, Stephen. I suspect the moments right after the collision will be etched in Shane Osborn's mind forever. Very dramatic description of seeing literally the view outside the cockpit filled by the South China Sea. He probably has flashes of seeing the burning aircraft going down. Perhaps a parachute. And I'm sure that part of the debriefing was a very, very detailed recounting of Lieutenant Osborn's recollections and as well as the others up front in the cockpit.
FRAZIER: Admiral, you have been complimentary toward the crew and the actions they took as the plane was descending. Sometimes under control, sometimes not. We're also hearing now as a result of the debrief, I think it's "The New York Times" that is reporting that the crew managed to hold off the Chinese military while it was on the ground for a good 15 minutes to complete their checklist. That the plane was surrounded by people with guns who were gesturing that they needed to come our and they stalled in that effort. Are you hearing more about that from your debriefings?
MCGINN: I have not heard any of those details, Stephen, but I suspect that they were going through the checklist. I think that they were acting at their individual stations, and as a team, and just carrying out their duties in a very, very professional and calm manner, particularly considering what they had just been through.
FRAZIER: Admiral, thanks for those insights. We're going to turn now to Larry King, who's going to join us starting in just a few minutes at 9 o'clock. And he has, as one of his guests tonight, Larry, somebody who is watching all of this very closely based on his own personal experience.
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": You bet, Stephen. Our special guest in studio and a special live edition of LARRY KING WEEKEND, normally we're on tape on Saturday nights, is Scott O'Grady, the former U.S. Air Force pilot, now in the Air Force Reserves. His F-16 was shot down over Bosnia, how quickly time goes, June of 1995. He hid from the Serbs, you remember, for 6 days. U.S. Marines saved him in a dramatic rescue. He will join a panel.
We'll also be talking with people who have returned at that wonderful setting there in Washington. That's right at the top of the hour, Stephen: Scott O'Grady and a whole bunch of others. Back to Stephen Frazier.
FRAZIER: Great, Larry. Thanks. We will see you then, at 9 o'clock, at the top of the hour. And now back Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island where we believe, in just a few moments, six members of crew who have yet to speak, will offer their comments to the press and to the public at large.
I believe they're being introduced now by this naval officer. We believe they'll be Wendy Westbrook, Patrick Honeck, Regina Kauffman, Ramon Mercado, Josef Edmunds, and Jeremy Crandall. And let's listen in to their comments.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got about 10 minutes, so thank you, very much -- Patrick.
LT. PATRICK HONECK, U.S. NAVY: I'd just like to say thank you to everyone who has been supportive of us while we were over there across the ocean. This is truly many dreams come true, being back here in the United States.
And I'd like to thank everyone from President Bush all the way down to our chain of command who made this day possible. And thanks for everyone who came out to welcome us home. Thanks.
I have a lot of friends back there. Went to college back there. Just say hi to everybody and thanks for all your prayers, e-mails that were being sent and letters and phone calls to the family. I appreciate it.
QUESTION: Could you introduce your family to us?
HONECK: Sure. In the red is my wife Kimmy (ph), my daughter, Melissa, my son, Devon. On the left is my mom, Vicky and my -- to her --to my right, my dad, Mark. My brother, Ben, and his wife, Kelly, and behind in the brown hat is my Grandpa, Dennis.
QUESTION: ... talk about your family. When you were being held, what were your thoughts about your family?
HONECK: Just hoping they were okay and that the government was letting them know where we were and that we were doing okay. We felt pretty confident that that information was getting back. We were just hoping for the day when we could come back home.
QUESTION: Now that you are home. What are some of your plans? You have three days leave, do you have anything planned to do with the family? Are you going to lay back and relax?
HONECK: That's exactly what I'm going do. Lay back and relax.
QUESTION: What were you feeling when the Chinese surrounded your plane?
HONECK: The treatment was fair. We were fed pretty well and seemed to get pretty good medical attention for those that needed it.
QUESTION: What was your role on the plane, exactly?
HONCEK: I'm one of the pilots on the plane.
QUESTION: In the crisis situation how did that work?
HONECK: One of the guys that helped land the aircraft. That was a couple handfuls of airplane, that's for sure. But training pulled us through and everything worked out good. We were happy to be on the ground once we got there, despite the fact that we weren't at the airport we wanted to be.
QUESTION: What was the first thing the Chinese said to you?
HONECK: It was not in English. Anything else?
QUESTION: What was the first thing you said to the Chinese?
HONECK: I honestly don't remember.
HONECK: No, we had a pretty good idea that they knew where we were and that they were watching out for us. We just knew it was a matter of time before they would bring us home.
QUESTION: What was it like to hug your wife and kids?
HONCEK: I think everybody on the crew felt that way initially. There was definitely a moment in time where we were all kind of in shock and didn't believe what was going on, but once we were able to put that behind us and fall back on our training, pretty much just made it happen. Didn't have time to think too much about "what if" anymore.
QUESTION: Lieutenant, had you had any premonitions after all the hot dogging by the Chinese pilot in the last few months.
HONECK: I'm not going to comment on that.
QUESTION: Lieutenant, a lot of people are calling you heroes. What do you think of that title?
HONECK: I think we were a crew that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we just happened to pull out of it with the end result being good.
JEREMY CRANDALL, U.S. NAVY: Yes, I'm Petty Officer Crandall, hometown is Rockford, Illinois. I'd like to thank them for the support. The emotional roller coaster we went through, we really didn't really go through a lot of emotional roller coasters because, as a crew, we were so tight and everybody looked out for each other, that we never really had to worry about that, because if you got down someone picked you right back up.
QUESTION: What were your thoughts when you saw your parents, when you walked in.
CRANDALL: It felt good, you know, to get off the plane, see your family. Of course, you know, being in the military you go long times (sic) of period (sic) without, you know, coming back to see your family and stuff like that. I came home a little bit earlier than I had planned but it's good. I'm glad to be back, and I can't wait to get home.
QUESTION: Any light moments that stick out in your mind of the time that you spent in China? To help you guys get through?
CRANDALL: Get through it? Just, you know, just the faith we had throughout the crew. We were tight, you know, we talked to each other, we played cards. Stuff like that. Anything to keep up the spirits, you know. We never let anybody get down. If they started getting a little down, we just picked them back up and we moved on.
CRANDALL: I'm a U.S. service member. I do my job. I don't worry about it. I have support from the U.S. government and the U.S. people. I'm not -- you know, I'm not too worried about it.
QUESTION: What were you thinking when the plane was going down?
CRANDALL: It's scary. You know, all I can really say is it's scary. Like I said, at the time I thought, you know, hey, I'm 20 year old I've had a good life. I love my family. I said my prayers. We had a great pilot. Lieutenant Osborn saved all our lives. All the crew members owe our lives to Lieutenant Osborn. He pulled it out and he saved us.
QUESTION: Of course, you had a job to do during those last few of the flight. How tough was it to stay focused on your duty when you're wondering if this aircraft is going to make it?
CRANDALL: You have to stay focused. You have to put on your parachute, you know, your SV-2. You have to have all that stuff on. The plane is moving around. I mean, yes, it's difficult and you're scared. I mean it just basically comes down to the training that we received through the Navy. You know, we just kept focused. We stayed tight as a crew. Helped each other out and we moved on.
QUESTION: What did they feed you and what were your sleeping conditions.
CRANDALL: I'm going to let the lieutenant take this one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hate to interrupt, but we'd like to get everybody through, at least get every body a couple questions, so...
QUESTION: What did they feed you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll let that answer (sic) be questioned (sic) --answered by Petty Officer Westbrook. So we'll let her come up. A couple questions and we'll try and rotate through and then we'd like to get out of here to see our families. We appreciate it, thanks.
PETTY OFFICER WESTBROOK, U.S. NAVY: Hi, I'm Petty Officer Westbrook. I just want to say thanks for the welcoming, and I'd like to say hi to my sister in Ohio, who's at work right now. And basically, they fed us rice.
There was a lot of meats and vegetables, but pretty much basically bread, rice. We requested for Coca-Cola and we received that for lunch and dinner.
QUESTION: Were you kept in separate lodging areas? Were you ever together? Did you have to sleep in separate quarters? Were you ever together as a group?
WESTBROOK: When we first got there we were allowed to mingle around and talk with each other. As we went towards the other complex, some of us were -- all of us were put in different rooms. The three females were put in one room and the rest were put in to other rooms. And we were pretty much confined to our room unless we were eating.
QUESTION: How would the interrogations go? Did they just keep you up for hours on end?
WESTBROOK: No. They pretty much pushed the rest, and keep eating. To keep eating.
PETTY OFFICER JOSEF EDMUNDS: I'm Petty Officer Josef Edmunds. A very proud member of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and VQ-1, Crew 1. I'm very glad to be back in the United States. Very glad to work with such wonderful, professional, entertaining, to a certain extent, crew and God bless America.
QUESTION: What do you have to friends (OFF-MIKE)?
EDMUNDS: Thank you for the prayers -- this goes out to all of America. Thank you for your prayers, for your hopes, for having faith in the government, which we all had. We had a great deal of faith in the leadership of this country.
QUESTION: What was it like when they boarded that plane? What was their attitude? Were they angry? Were they shouting? Did they point their guns at you?
EDMUNDS: One of the things that made me feel fairly comfortable, when I got off the plane I was so happy to be alive I had a big grin on my face, anyway. But one of the things that made me feel comfortable -- some of them were fairly shocked. None of them seemed very aggressive. And a lot of them seemed calm, like, "Let's take care of business." And that made me feel very comfortable. QUESTION: Who opened the door?
QUESTION: I understand you proposed from the airplane (OFF-MIKE)
EDMUNDS: OK, Sandra, could you come up here? Congratulations.
SANDRA: Thank you.
EDMUNDS: This is the greatest woman in the world. I'd actually been thinking about proposing for quite a while. I decided, you know, I wanted to wait for the perfect moment.
Well, sometimes the perfect moment does not come, right? Right when we hit the deck, I turned to Petty Officer Funk, a very, very, close friend of mine, somebody who helped me through this whole ordeal, and I said, "That's it, I'm getting married as soon as I get back." I actually called her from Guam, and I guess that was captured on TV. (OFF-MIKE)
QUESTION: What did Brandon Funk say about it?
LT. J.G. RICK PAYNE: I'm Lieutenant J.G. Rick Payne from the state of Texas. This is my wife, Jill, and my family back here behind me.
PAYNE: Actually, you all knew we were coming home before we did.
QUESTION: When did you find out and how?
PAYNE: They brought us downstairs to a meeting. They told us we were meeting with their leaders. We came downstairs, they read a great big announcement. It took several minutes and finally, at the end they told us we were going to be going home for a reunion very soon.
QUESTION: What went through your head?
PAYNE: The crew remained very calm. Lieutenant Osborn kind of turned around and looked at us, smiled slightly, and nobody showed my emotion at all. We didn't want to have any kind of outburst or anything like that, so we remained calm, straight faced through the whole thing just as the entire two weeks had been. The first outburst came when the Continental jet took off.
QUESTION: How long (OFF-MIKE)
PAYNE: Several hours. At first we thought we're were going home right away, but they allowed us to go back to our rooms. We started gathering things together, and sat for a while, and it wasn't until very early the next morning.
QUESTION: How much pressure did the Chinese put on you to tell them about what (OFF-MIKE)?
PAYNE: Every interrogation that I was in they asked about the mission equipment.
QUESTION: What does it feel like knowing that your aircraft is still (OFF-MIKE)
PAYNE: To be honest, I'm just happy to be home. And that's all I was thinking about.
QUESTION: When they asked you about the mission equipment what did you tell them? And also were they also trying to get the American crew to take that blame for this collision?
PAYNE: In the interrogations, they asked us for an apology, the same as they were asking the United States government. And as far as the mission equipment, I don't care to discuss it.
QUESTION: How did you reply when they asked you to apologize?
PAYNE: We stuck with -- by the time they got around to requesting apologies, we had spoken with General Sealock, the defense attache, and they had told us what President Bush's response had been, and we used the same words.
QUESTION: Did you fall back on the code of conduct?
LIEUTENANT JUNIOR GRADE REGINA KAUFFMAN, U.S. NAVY: I think we were definitely thinking about the code of conduct the whole time, it was definitely in our minds.
I'm Lieutenant JG Regina Kauffman. This is my husband right here, in uniform, Lieutenant JG Keith Kauffman. I'm from Warminster, Pennsylvania.
First, I'd like -- I'd really like to thank the rest of my crew. I think everyone did an outstanding job, and did their jobs -- they were all really great. It was a team effort to get us on the ground and to get everything done, and the pilots did an outstanding job, but it was definitely a crew effort, and then everybody was great. We were stuck together the whole time, and so -- I'd like to thank them and everybody who was pulling for us back here.
QUESTION: Why did you pick Hainan island? Why did you pick that location?
KAUFFMAN: Just because it was the easiest, it was the closest, obviously. It was the closest airfield, and I just naturally started heading in that direction, and -- once the pilots started getting the plane under control.
QUESTION: Were you surprised to see how much damage there was to the aircraft when you got out?
KAUFFMAN: When I got out, I was. I myself did not -- was not aware of the damage to the aircraft. I didn't look out the window, and I was not aware -- I was mainly concerned about the navigation parts of it. And I looked out and got off the plane, and saw the nose cut off, I was pretty surprised. And with all the damage, I felt that we were lucky that there was not more damage and that we were able to land the plane, that engines weren't sided, and just very happy that we were able to get on the ground.
QUESTION: What do you plan to do with your time off?
KAUFFMAN: Definitely to spend some time with my husband. I believe his deployment is pushed back, so we're going to spend some time together, and that's about it.
KAUFFMAN: I was warned about it, but I really -- I was very surprised, and I'm shocked at how much support we have. We're all happy about how everybody was pulling for us and how everybody was praying for us. And we all would like the thank America and everybody for their support.
QUESTION: One more question!
KAUFFMAN: I think that Lieutenant Vignery would like to -- thank you.
LIEUTENANT JUNIOR GRADE JEFFREY VIGNERY, U.S. NAVY: Lieutenant JG Jeff Vignery, from Goodland, Kansas. I'd just like to put out a couple of thank-yous. First of all, I'd like to thank God. Obviously, from everything that you have heard, I personally believe -- and I'm pretty sure that I speak for the rest of the crew -- that he definitely had a hand in all of this, bringing us home safely.
And also would like to thank my family, who has supported not only me but every single person on the crew and all their families. I'd like the thank the United States government for continuing to work to get us out of China as soon as possible, and I'd like the thank the American people for continuing to back us up and just keeping the faith in the military.
And I had no idea -- I don't think any of us had any idea -- what kind of welcoming we would receive from the United States, and I think all of us can't thank you enough for all of this. We just -- I just want to say thank you.
QUESTION: What was it like to come off the plane and see the crowd here today?
VIGNERY: It's kind of hard to explain the emotions that go through. And I can say that I have never felt so proud to be an American my entire life. And I just -- I thank God and I think everyone here. Thank you. I'd really like to spend some time with my family, and I hope...
FRAZIER: And the comments of some members of crew there, as we close our coverage of this special event, the homecoming of U.S. naval crew to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. We'd like to thank the people who helped us with our coverage, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, who was watching from Washington and offering his insights, also Master Chief Richard Rose who was in position at hangar six at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, and our national correspondent Frank Buckley, all of whom had had to step away before we could give them proper thanks for their contributions to today's coverage.
We'd also like to point out that the coverage of this event continues with "LARRY KING LIVE," which starts at the top of the hour. Larry has as his guest some of the members of the crew -- we don't know which ones yet -- and also, adding his thoughts to what happened to the crew, Captain Scott O'Grady of the Air Force, whose F-16 was shot down over Bosnia several years ago. He is there with Larry now, and can offer a sense of what it's like to be in that position.
And finally, we'd like to leave you with the scenes of today's activities, which was so significant. For 14 days now, these young people have been the focus of a nation's attention. This was our chance now, a long day in which we had a chance to see their faces, hear their voices, get some sense of the spirit that they brought to this mission and to their work in the U.S. military. These, the homecomings, that made it all worthwhile, and which were the heart of our coverage.
I'm Stephen Frazier at CNN center in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us for this extended coverage. We'll have more news at an hour from now, but stay tuned, please, for "LARRY KING LIVE."
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