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Posted: 4/21/2001 7:20:25 AM EST
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 satisfy them. 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 The stairs were withdrawn, the cabin door closed, and we started the engines and departed.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 job. 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,
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