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The BBC's Linda Duffin
"Both sides blamed each other for the incident"
 real 56k

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"For both the Chinese and the Americans this was a moment that couldn't come too soon"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 3 July, 2001, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
US spy plane leaves China
US spy plane fuselage
The US hopes to reassemble the plane and return it to service
The last parts of a US spy plane that collided with a Chinese fighter jet, sparking a crisis in relations, have been airlifted out of China.

The EP-3 surveillance aircraft had been stranded on the southern island of Hainan for three months after being forced to make an emergency landing there.


It couldn't have come any sooner... we're all very pleased

Doug Holl, US Navy spokesman
"The aircraft in its entirety as well as all the equipment that was involved in its removal has left," said Commander John Fleming at US Pacific Command in Hawaii.

Mr Fleming said the plane, which was taken apart and loaded on to an Antonov-124 cargo plane, was flown out of Lingshui airbase on Hainan at 1740 (0940 GMT).

It is being flown to Hawaii, with a stop in the Philippines for refuelling, the US Pacific Command said.

Strained relations

The collision of the Chinese fighter and the US spy plane - and the subsequent detention by China of the US crew - prompted the biggest strain in tensions between Beijing and Washington since the bombing of China's embassy in Yugoslavia by US planes in 1999.

Navy spokesman Doug Holl said a 12-member team from the plane's manufacturer Lockheed Martin would also be leaving Hainan.

"It couldn't have come any sooner," Mr Holl said. "We're all very pleased."

He said the plane would be transported to a Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta, Georgia, where it would be reassembled in preparation for returning to service.

Apology

Other parts of the EP-3 have already been taken to a US base on Okinawa, Japan, Mr Holl said.

The EP-3 collided in mid-air with a Chinese fighter jet on 1 April, killing the Chinese pilot, before being forced to make its emergency landing.

China held the spy plane crew for 11 days, causing a serious diplomatic row between the two countries.

The impasse ended only after Washington said it was "very sorry" that the Chinese pilot had died and that the American plane had landed without permission.

'Careful dismantling'

Beijing had refused US requests to repair the plane and fly it off the island, apparently hoping to punish Washington by forcing it to destroy its aircraft in order to retrieve it.

The Americans say that by carefully dismantling the plane instead of chopping it up, they will be able to put it back together.

But analysts say it is unlikely the badly-damaged EP-3 will ever fly again.

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See also:

14 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Work begins to return spy plane
10 Jun 01 | Europe
Russians to fly out spy plane
07 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
China and US seal spy plane deal
04 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US spy plane 'could fly home'
03 May 01 | Americas
US 'split' on China policy
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