U.S. defense secretary: Chinese pilot was harassing U.S. crew
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said on Friday that the pilot of a Chinese fighter jet was harassing the crew of a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane when the two aircraft collided.
"The F-8 pilot clearly put at risk the lives of 24 Americans," Rumsfeld said during a Pentagon news conference. "It was clear the pilot's intent was to harass the crew."
The April 1 collision caused the Chinese plane to crash and the American plane to make an emergency landing on a Chinese island.
Chinese pilot Wang Wei is missing and presumed dead. The 24-member American crew was detained in China for 11 days before being released early Thursday.
Rumsfeld said he didn't believe the Chinese pilot deliberately ran into the U.S. EP-3.
"You've got to know that no pilot intentionally takes his horizontal stabilizer and sticks it in the propeller of an EP-3," Rumsfeld said. "He did not mean to do that, I am certain of that."
During the news conference, Rumsfeld showed video taken from a U.S. aircraft that showed -- based on its number -- the same Chinese aircraft that struck the EP-3 flying very close to the U.S. plane.
Sources told CNN that the pilot shown in the video -- which was shot January 24 -- was Wang.
Internal U.S. government documents lists the Chinese pilot as having been involved in two previous close encounters with U.S. planes -- once on January 24, and another on January 30.
The videotape released by the Pentagon Friday shows Wang cutting in front of the slow-moving U.S. prop plane, and then pulling up under the left wing.
The plane's number, 81192, also matches the number of the plane usually flown by Wang.
In Cuba, where China President Jiang Zemin was visiting President Fidel Castro, Jiang's spokesman told reporters the U.S. still has an obligation to fulfill. "The government of the United States should give an explanation to the people of China," said Zhu Bangzao.
"It should stop sending its spy planes to the Chinese shores, and it should take effective and efficient steps to avoid accidents and incidents of this type in the future," he said.
U.S.-China meeting set for Wednesday
U.S. and Chinese officials were to meet in Beijing next Wednesday April 18 to discuss the causes of the incident, the fate of the Navy EP-3 aircraft and how such accidents could be avoided in the future.
Based on initial interviews with the aircrew, Rumsfeld said that the U.S. plane was flying straight and level on autopilot -- not turning, as the Chinese have asserted -- when the Chinese fighter approached rapidly from a 45-degree angle.
The Chinese jet passed under the left wing of the U.S. plane, and then pulled up its nose to slow down, causing its tail to hit the EP-3's left outboard propeller, Rumsfeld said.
He said the collision caused the jet to break up and debris hit the EP-3's nose cone, which in turn knocked out the inboard engine on the right wing.
Rumsfeld said the plane's commander, Navy Lt. Shane Osborn, considered ordering his crew to bail out, and then, after righting the plane, thought of ditching at sea. Finally, he decided he had a good chance of landing at the Chinese base 40 to 50 miles away.
U.S. officials said that Osborn's attempts to contact Chinese officials about his situation were unsuccessful, and he put the plane down without official permission.
Rumsfeld said the plane -- still impounded by China -- was worth more than $80 million and indicated the U.S. was interested in its return.
"As the president has indicated from the outset -- (U.S.) Secretary (of State Colin) Powell -- that subject will be front and center at the April 18 meetings, just as it has been every single day since the crew landed in China," Rumsfeld said.
The U.S. crew was released on Thursday, after intense negotiations resulted in a letter to China from U.S. Ambassador to China Joseph Prueher saying the United States was "very sorry" for the loss of the pilot and that the Navy plane had landed in China "without verbal clearance."
On Thursday and Friday, the crew has been undergoing debriefing sessions in Hawaii. They were expected to return to the plane's base at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington for a homecoming celebration scheduled for Saturday.
The debriefs were thought to be broken into three parts, according to former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman of the National War College: damage assessment, operational intelligence and military-to-military relations.
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