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U.S. plane crew send messages back home

Mike Cecka tells CNN's Larry King about the message he got from his son being held in China
Mike Cecka tells CNN's Larry King about the message he got from his son David, who is being held in China  

WHIDBEY ISLAND NAVAL AIR STATION, Washington (CNN) -- The crew of a U.S. spy plane being held by China sent brief messages to family members back home, letting them know they were OK.

The messages were put together during Tuesday's face-to-face meetings between the 24 crew members and U.S. diplomats in China, and then relayed by the U.S. Navy to the family members in the United States.

Mike Cecka, the father of Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class David Cecka, said it was a relief to hear from his son.

"He said, 'All is well,' " Cecka told CNN's Larry King.

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    Asked if was confident his boy would be back home soon, Cecka said, "Absolutely."

    But the families were still on edge about when their loved ones might be released. Military officials have little information they can pass along at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, where the crew is based.

    "The spouses that I spoke to were, of course, frightened. They were concerned for the well-beings of their loved ones, and they were very, very angry," Wing Cmdr. William Marriott said at a news conference. "Of course, we didn't have all the answers they wanted."

    A U.S. delegation met with the crew members, under close supervision of Chinese officials, on Hainan Island, where the EP-3 made an emergency landing over the weekend after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet.

    Brig. Gen. Neal Sealock, U.S. Embassy defense attache, described the crew members as being in good condition.

    "That is tremendous news from our perspective obviously, and the first step, we hope, in the rapid repatriation of the American crew members," Marriott said.

    U.S. officials said the crew were being kept two to a room at a military guest residence, except for the pilot who being held alone.

    Ronald Vignery, the father of Lt. Jeffrey Vignery, a junior pilot of the plane, said he's confident about the government's actions.

    "I'm very grateful to the president and the United States government for the way they're handling this thing," Vignery told CNN in a phone interview from his home in Goodland, Kansas. "I think they're doing a good job and I think they're going to get our people home quickly."

    Every family of a crew member has been assigned a personal contact at the base to pass along new information, and deal with personal issues, including security and counseling.

    Base chaplains have to deal with spiritual and emotional needs. They have been meeting with family members and others from the base community.

    "Any time anything like this happens, any sort of tragic thing, it obviously brings the reality home for anyone that knows them," said Navy Chaplain Lt. Jon Conroe. "It just brings the big picture into focus for them." Earlier, family and friends tied yellow ribbons around trees across the crew's home base in Whidbey Island to symbolize their hopes.

    The squadron departed Washington on March 2 for what was to have been a three-month rotation in the western Pacific, Navy spokeswoman Kim Martin said.

    All but two of the plane's seven officers and 17 enlisted crew were Navy personnel, with an Air Force airman and a Marine sergeant on board as well. Fourteen of the crew's families live on base, Martin said.



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