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U.S. plane inspection team leaves China

The damaged plane is still on the tarmac in Hainan
The damaged plane is still on the tarmac in Hainan  

BEIJING, China -- A team of technicians has left China after completing their inspection of a crippled U.S. Navy spy plane, the official Xinhua news agency reports.

The agency said on Saturday that there would be more discussions on the fate of the EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft, but gave no further details.

A Pentagon official said on Friday the plane, despite the damage caused by the April 1 collision that sparked an 11-day diplomatic standoff, could be flown out of China.

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But U.S. Defence officials say China indicated it did not want the EP-3 flown off Hainan Island, where it made an emergency landing after the collision.

One alternative would be to take the aircraft apart for shipment by boat.

The five-member assessment team from Lockheed-Martin told the Pentagon the plane sustained no structural damage that would prevent its repair and flight, if China permits that, sources said.

The plane has been impounded at a Chinese military base on the island since April 1, when it was forced to land after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea.

All 24 U.S. servicemen and women aboard the plane were detained by Chinese authorities and released unharmed 11 days later.

A Chinese fighter jet and its pilot have been missing since the collision.

Pentagon officials cautioned that the team's initial report did not specify what would be involved in the repair, because communication from the team was limited for security reasons.

On Thursday, Chinese officials at the Lingshui military base on Hainan Island balked at a request to provide electricity so the Lockheed-Martin team could power up the plane's systems.

Officials said the power was provided Friday.

U.S. officials say Washington is prepared to pay the costs of getting the aircraft out of China, but insist no compensation will be paid.

Each side blames the other for the collision, which sparked the most serious of a lengthening series of disputes with Washington that includes the biggest U.S. offer of arms in a decade to Taiwan, Beijing's bitter rival.

CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and Reuters contributed to this report



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RELATED SITES:
U.S. Department of Defense
White House
Chinese Foreign Ministry
U.S. Embassy of the People's Republic of China
U.S. Navy factfile: The EP-3

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