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Medals awarded to surveillance plane crew

The U.S. Navy surveillance plane crew members receive their medals  

WASHINGTON -- The 24-member crew of a U.S. Navy surveillance plane that made a harrowing emergency landing in China received medals Friday during an awards ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.

The pilot of the EP-3E aircraft, Lt. Shane Osborn, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Osborn and the senior enlisted man on the crew, Senior Chief Nicholas Mellos, received the Meritorious Service Award, and the other crew members received the Air Medal.

Osborn is credited with saving his crew by bringing the four-engine propeller plane out of an uncontrolled dive for an emergency landing.

"It was great to see the entire crew honored in this way to have the secretary of defense and all the chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of the Navy and all the other services here," Osborn told CNN. "It' quite an honor to receive these awards in front of these distinguished persons."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Henry Shelton were among the dignitaries attending the event.

Watch highlights from the ceremony (May 18)

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graphic U.S.-China Collision: A diplomatic solution
 • About freighter returning EP-3
 • Look: Inside the EP-3
 • Facts about the EP-3
 • Map: Locating the incident
 • Big picture: High stakes
 • Classroom discussion guide
 • Historical US-China timeline
 • Whidbey arrival images
 • Crew speaks out
 • Crew's return images


"We honor you today and celebrate the fact that you returned home safely to your families and to your country," Rumsfeld said.

The military brought to the Andrews ceremony a similar EP-3E Aries surveillance plane to stand in for the crew's aircraft.

Earlier, President George W. Bush met with the crew members at the White House.

"You handled yourself with such class and dignity, it was important for our nation to realize the fine caliber of people that serve our country," Bush said. "We appreciate your mission, but most of all we appreciate your character."

Among Navy medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross ranks among the most prestigious, ahead of the Bronze Star and just below the Legion of Merit. It is awarded for an act of heroism or achievement in flight "so exceptional and outstanding as to clearly set the individual apart" from his comrades, according to military records.

The United States is negotiating with China for the return of the crippled EP-3E surveillance plane that remains on the Chinese island of Hainan.


The EP-3E was damaged after it collided with a Chinese fighter jet, sending the fighter diving into the South China Sea and forcing the Navy plane to land on the island.

China blamed the U.S. plane for the April 1 accident, while U.S. officials said it was the pilot of the Chinese jet that caused the crash by flying too close. Pilot Wang Wei, who was killed in the collision, has been declared a hero and a martyr by Beijing.

Chinese authorities detained the U.S. crew members on the island for 11 days until Washington said it was "very sorry" for Wang's death. The crew returned to the United States to a hero's welcome.

Beijing has refused to allow repairs to the nose, engines and controls of the plane so that it can be flown out of China.

The incident raised tensions between China and the United States to their highest level in two years, and Beijing on Thursday repeated its refusal to allow the damaged aircraft to fly home. A Foreign Ministry spokesman also said China had not received a formal request to remove the plane by cargo aircraft.

Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters the negotiations were continuing, including the possibility of taking the aircraft apart and flying it out in a large transport plane. He declined to be more specific.

A team of five civilian technicians from Lockheed Martin Corp., maker of the EP-3, inspected it earlier this month. They reported that despite damage to the plane's nose, engines and flight controls, it could be repaired sufficiently to be flown off Hainan.



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