Posted: 4/21/2001 8:20:25 AM EDT
Once the airplane was serviced and ready to go, we looked anxiously around for
any sign of the buses that carried our 24 detainees. Before that could happen
however, we had a problem to deal with. A U.S. military General who was on the
scene to assist in the transfer came storming up the stairs and demanded to
speak with the Captain. Tom Pinardo responded. The General said that the
entire mission was now in jeopardy. A document called the general declaration,
which is standard on all international flights had listed the destination as
Haikou, China R.O.C. The initials ROC stand for Republic of China which is ..
Taiwan! The Chinese were very upset over this. Tom quickly crossed out ROC and
replaced it with P.R.O.C. the Peoples Republic of China. This seemed to
With the airplane ready to go and the paperwork complete, 2 buses pulled up and
the 24 U.S. service men and women saluted as they bolted up the stairs and
settled into the back of the plane. When the last one was aboard, our passports
were returned to us. The stairs were withdrawn, the cabin door closed, and we
started the engines and departed. It was my turn at the controls.
Once airborne heading straight south we broke through the clouds into the bright
sunshine. Pierre made a PA announcement that we were over international waters
and leaving Chinese airspace. A great cheer rose from the back of the airplane.
A short while later we received a telephone patch over the HF radio from Mr.
Joseph Prueher, U.S Ambassador to China. He wanted to speak with Lt. Shane
Osborne the 26 year old EP-3 Aircraft Commander. Lt. Osborne came to the
cockpit and put on a headset. The Ambassador told him that on behalf of the
President of the United States and the entire country he wanted to say welcome
home . He went on to say how proud he was of everything the crew had done from
their airmanship in saving the lives of the crew and aircraft, to their conduct
on the ground once they had been detained. They had truly done an excellent
After his conversation with the Ambassador, Lt. Osborne stayed in the cockpit
for quite a while and told us his story pilot to pilot of what had happened
during and immediately after the mid-air collision with the F-8 Chinese fighter.
The fighter came up under their left wing. This pilot made 2 very close passes
previously that day. He apparently misjudged the intercept and his vertical
stabilizer struck the outboard left propeller on the EP-3. The U.S. plane was
in straight and level flight on autopilot at the time.
The fighter broke into two pieces and plunged into the sea. The U.S. plane
rolled to the left almost inverted, the pilot lost control and they began to
lose altitude. The Chinese fighter had raked back across the fuselage and
knocked off the nose cone causing the aircraft to buffet wildly. When the nose
cone departed the aircraft it collided with and damaged the number 4 propeller
on the right wing. The collision punctured the pressure vessel and the EP-3
depressurized. The collision also knocked off the pitot tubes eliminating
airspeed and altitude indications in the cockpit. It also knocked off the
forward bracket for the HF radio antenna. The antenna then flew back and
wrapped around the tail.
We were almost upside down and totally out of control Osborne told us. The dive
continued and some crew members donned parachutes. At about 8,000 feet,