Posted: 4/9/2001 4:58:23 PM EDT
Spy plane 'forced to land'
Fighter pilot asked to shoot down aircraft; brawl broke out as PLA officer tried to board
STAFF REPORTER in BEIJING and AGENCIES
Zhao Yu: account incomplete
The US spy plane stranded on Hainan Island was forced to land by a Chinese fighter after requests to shoot it down were rejected by ground control, Chinese sources said yesterday.
Dramatic new details also emerged of how a senior PLA officer wrestled a US airman to the ground as the mainland military boarded the EP-3E Aries II plane following its collision with a Chinese jet eight days ago. Twenty-four American crew are being held as the Chinese navy searches for pilot Wang Wei, who parachuted from his F-8 fighter.
US President George W. Bush would write to Wang's wife as a "humanitarian gesture", Secretary of State Colin Powell said. She had previously written to Mr Bush, accusing him of being "too cowardly" to apologise.
The Chinese military is continuing to take a hard line on the collision, with Defence Minister Chi Haotian yesterday again blaming the US.
The developments came as Chinese sources gave a more detailed account of the collision than that given by Zhao Yu, the second Chinese pilot.
Zhao told state-run TV that he and Wang initially tracked the EP-3 at a distance of about 400 metres in their F-8 fighters. He said the US plane veered abruptly, the propeller on its left wing smashing into Wang's plane and causing it to plunge into the sea.
The sources said Zhao's account was incomplete. After seeing the loss of Wang's plane, Zhao radioed ground control for permission to shoot down the US plane, but this was refused, they said.
"The officials at ground control were cool-headed," one source said. "Zhao could have shot the plane down but that would have meant the death of 24 US airmen. It would have been an act of war, whereas the collision was an accident."
The sources said that after the collision, the spy plane attempted to fly to the northeast, away from China. However, Zhao manoeuvred to prevent this and forced the plane to land at Hainan's Lingshui base, where it was immediately surrounded by Chinese military.
After landing, the US crew refused to let the Chinese enter the plane, demanding that US diplomats be present. Initially, the Chinese made no attempt to force entry. Then a senior officer arrived, walked up the stairs and wrestled a US crew member guarding the entrance. The officer threw the airman to the ground, enabling the PLA to enter.
"The 24 crew members were given their own area in the base, with Chinese military staying at a distance," one source said. "Two of the crew [guarded] the entrance to this area."
The revelations came as China and the US continued intensive negotiations to resolve the diplomatic stand-off.
Yesterday, US Vice-President Dick Cheney reiterated that the US had no plans to apologise to China. "The President [George W. Bush] has made it clear we regret the loss of the Chinese pilot as a result of this accident. The notion that we would apologise for being in international air space, for example, is not something we can accept," Mr Cheney said in a television interview.
Pressed on whether the US had anything to apologise for, he said: "No, I don't believe we do."
The US Secretary of State said the Sino-US relationship "is being
You always have a choice. I still maintain he made the wrong one.
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