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Sunday, 10 June, 2001, 00:04 GMT 01:04 UK
Russians to fly out spy plane
Stranded US spy plane
The EP-3 spy plane has been stranded since April
A Russian company has won the contract to fly out the US spy plane stranded on a Chinese military base.

The company, Polyot, told Russian news agencies an Antonov 124-100 cargo plane will airlift the dismantled US EP-3 spy plane which has been grounded in the southern Chinese island of Hainan since April.

Leonid Shirobokov, a spokesman for Polyot, told the Interfax and Itar-Tass news agencies that his company was making preparations for the flight but did not specify a date.

Russian-built Antonov
The Antonov is the world's largest cargo plane
There has been no confirmation as yet from the United States.

The US Defence Department issued an international tender for a Russian-built Antonov-124 - the world's largest cargo plane.

American and Chinese officials reached an agreement last week to ship the aircraft back to the United States after a lengthy stand-off.

Row

Washington had originally wanted to fly out the plane after carrying out repairs but China refused them permission to do so.

The long-simmering row began when the spy plane was involved in a collision in which a Chinese pilot died.

The incident sparked a serious diplomatic spat between the two countries, and it was 11 days before the 24-member crew of the US spy plane was allowed to return home.

The stand-off over the crew ended only after Washington said it was "very sorry" that the Chinese pilot had died and the plane had landed without permission.

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See also:

07 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
China and US seal spy plane deal
04 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
US spy plane 'could fly home'
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