Skip to main content /US /US

Larry King: Freed crewmen offer new details about collision, detainment


Freed Navy crewmen John Comerford and David Cecka appeared Saturday on "Larry King Live" and offered new details about the April 1 collision between a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet, and the crew's subsequent detainment.

KING: So you see these Chinese fighter jets up and around you all the time on these missions, right?

COMERFORD: I wouldn't say all the time sir, I would say it's almost routine. I've seen them several times but definitely not every flight.

KING: Did you know that this one fellow was coming kind of close?

COMERFORD: Absolutely. I was actually seated -- and there's no window at my position -- taking some notes based on what people were telling me. And I could tell, from the urgency of people's voices on the communications system on board the plane, that this was not a typical intercept, that this fighter -- the lead fighter -- was being extremely aggressive. He was gesturing and I could tell from crew members' voices -- from the observers -- that this was out of the norm.

KING: When it was going down, frankly, were you scared, lieutenant?

COMERFORD: I was scared. Honestly, based on how things felt. I didn't have a whole lot of visual reference. Based on how things felt and the shaking of the plane, yeah, there was a time when I really thought to myself, 'Wow this guy just killed us.' And that was a pretty intense feeling, I'm sure."

KING: David, where were you in the plane?

CECKA: I was sitting just up from Lt. Comerford and I'd heard that the plane was coming pretty close and so I'd gotten up to take a look and it just took one look of the plane off our wing tip and I'd seen enough. I went back and sat down and strapped in. Shortly after that the plane began to bump us. Originally, I'd thought possibly he was just playing, maybe bumping the tip of our wing, trying to do whatever he was trying to do. And the next thing I know, it was a real hard, hard bang and a then a second, and then a very loud, bang and we went nose down and I kind of went into automatic pilot after that. I heard a command to bail out and our training took over after that.

Cecka, top, and Comerford spoke to CNN's Larry King  

KING: Did you think you were going to bail out?

CECKA: I thought so. After we regained somewhat control of the aircraft, we were all in our parachutes and lined up. They were moving the ladder back and preparing to open the main cabin door. And it was just second-by-second and there was a good opportunity that we would have gone out.

KING: Were you scared?

CECKA: I was terrified when we first were struck, to be perfectly honest. And when the nose went down, it was terrifying. But that lasted three seconds and I distanced myself and our training took over and got us through the ordeal.

KING: Were you surprised at how well you were treated by the Chinese?

COMERFORD: No, to be honest. There was a question, I think, in all of our minds as to exactly how we would be treated. And we discussed this on the ground as a crew. You know, China, being a member of the U.N. Security Council, obviously the United States and China, it's definitely in both of our interests to treat each others' military members as well as we can. There was no hostility, really, anywhere in this whole situation. It was an accident. So, I would have been very surprised if we had been mistreated, to be honest. China's human-rights record is something they're very concerned about. So I think they were extremely conscious of that.

KING: Did you ever fear for your safety once you were down?

CECKA: It was just a continuing change of events. When we sat down, immediately we began to think what would happen next. Originally, we were concerned for our safety, of course, and the safety of the rest of our crew members. So we tried to take care of each other and we quickly bonded and became really tight and helped each other out through the whole thing.

KING: We kept hearing how good the food was. Was it that good, the food they brought you?

CECKA: The food was not bad. The first couple meals were really good. Then they started to introduce us to some of their more traditional cuisine. In addition, it ranged from boiled fish heads to chicken feet to shrimp with tentacles.

Navy plane crew colleagues prepare homecoming celebration
April 13, 2001
Bush takes 'tough' China stance as crew returns to U.S.
April 12, 2001
U.S. spy plane crew land in Guam
April 11, 2001
Bush reaction: 'That's good news'
April 11, 2001
Careful language breaks Washington-Beijing impasse
April 11, 2001
Crew's families thrilled with news of release
April 11, 2001

The Pentagon
U.S. Navy
Navy Fact File: EP-3E ORION (ARIES II) Aircraft
U.S. Department of Defense
Government of China (in Chinese)
U.S. Department of State
Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the U.S.A.
Government Information Office, Republic of China

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top