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President Bush
"I know I speak for all Americans when I say welcome back to the flight crew"
 real 56k

The BBC's David Willis, in Hawaii
"The home-coming proper is on hold until the de-briefing is complete"
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Friday, 13 April, 2001, 20:12 GMT 21:12 UK
Chinese jet 'snapped in two'
US spy crew arriving in Hawaii
The crew face another 14 hours of questioning
The United States has flatly contradicted many elements of the Chinese account of the collision that brought a US surveillance plane down in China.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Chinese fighter jet had made two passes at the US Navy EP-3 aircraft - which was on autopilot and flying "straight and level" - before accidentally ramming it and breaking in two.

He said surveillance flights were common and widely understood, and implicitly criticised China for failing to return the US plane.

They have every right to observe what we were doing - what they do not have is the right to fly into another aircraft

Donald Rumsfeld,
US Defence Secretary
He also said the crew of the spy plane had succeeded in destroying its top-secret equipment before disembarking from the plane on Hainan island.

He showed a video of previous incident in which a Chinese fighter had flown close to an American surveillance plane, and said the US had formally protested to Beijing against Chinese pilots' "aggressive manoeuvering" against planes carrying out reconnaissance activities in international airspace.

"We had every right to be flying where we were flying. They have every right to observe what we were doing. What they do not have is the right to fly into another aircraft", Mr Rumsfeld said.

Row rumbles on

With sharpened rhetoric on both sides - and no guarantees from Beijing that it will return the US plane - the diplomatic row appears to be far from resolved.

Mr Rumsfeld - a former flight instructor - said he was sure the Chinese pilot had not intended to ram the US plane.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Mr Rumsfeld placed the blame squarely on the Chinese
"He did not mean to do that, I am certain of it," the defence secretary said.

The fighter - one of two Chinese planes monitoring the American one - twice passed within a metre (three feet) of the left wing of the US aircraft, he added.

During a third pass, the Chinese pilot apparently realised he was closing too fast and tried to cut speed, causing his fighter to collide with the US plane, Mr Rumsfeld said.

Intelligence equipment destroyed

He also said the crew destroyed sensitive intelligence-gathering equipment on the plane - part of standard operating procedure when such a craft goes down.

"The crew has a checklist. They went through that checklist, and did an excellent job," he said.

Lieutenant Shane Osborn, pilot of the US Navy surveillance plane
The pilot followed proper procedures, US sources say
He said the pilot, Lieutenant Shane Osborn, had sent numerous distress calls and followed internationally accepted procedures before making an emergency landing at the Chinese military airfield.

Chinese troops surrounded the plane on the runway on Hainan island and shouted through megaphones for the crew to disembark as the Navy personnel worked to keep the plane's equipment from falling into Beijing's hands.

"They made it clear they wanted us off that aircraft," Lieutenant Osborn is reported to have said.

The Americans have said they will continue surveillance flights off the coast of China, despite Beijing's insistence that they should be halted.

Sharp words

US President George W Bush adopted a conciliatory tone in expressing his regret at the loss of the Chinese pilot and the unauthorised emergency landing at a Chinese base, but has toughened his rhetoric since the release of the 24 crew members.

"The kind of incident we have just been through does not advance a constructive relationship between our countries," he said at the White House.

Ruan Guoqin, wife of missing Chinese pilot Wang Wei
The Chinese pilot's wife expressed empathy
He said the US would ask tough questions about Chinese tactics when the two sides meet next week. According to some reports, the meeting will take place in Beijing.

China allowed the crew to leave Hainan island on Wednesday, after the US expressed sorrow over the loss of the Chinese pilot involved in the incident.

The wife of the pilot - who is missing and presumed dead - reportedly said she could "understand the feelings of the family members of the US plane's crew" and wished the crew a safe journey home.

They will complete their debriefing in Hawaii before being allowed to return to their homes.

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13 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
America ponders 'defeat'
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