Debriefing awaits U.S. crew before reunions with families
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Continental Airlines charter plane picked up the 24 detained U.S. servicemen and women in China on Thursday, ending an 11-day standoff between the United States and China. The crew left Hainan Island Thursday morning and is flying to Guam.
The crew members were detained on Hainan Island since their Navy EP-3 spy plane collided with an F-8 Chinese fighter jet on April 1, sending the jet crashing into the sea and forcing the Navy aircraft to perform an emergency landing on the island.
Chinese Foreign Ministry officials announced Wednesday night they would release the detainees for "humanitarian reasons" after receiving a letter from the U.S. State Department that said the U.S. was "very sorry" about the apparent death of the missing pilot and for entering Chinese airspace during the emergency landing.
The Pentagon source told CNN that "if everything goes right," once the crew members arrive in Guam they will be transferred to a military C-17 for a flight to Hawaii. There, the crew is expected to undergo two to three days of debriefings by a variety of military teams. Members will receive "complete physicals, psychological exams and operational debriefings."
The crew members will leave Hawaii for their respective bases in the United States for reunions with their families. The majority of the crew members are based at Whidbey Island Naval Station in Washington state.
The Pentagon has not announced any plans for retrieving the damaged EP-3.
But Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, told CNN that China has agreed to let the U.S. retrieve the plane. One Pentagon official said when the time comes to move the plane, the options include loading the EP-3 on a barge, sending in a repair crew and fixing the surveillance plane or removing the wings and loading it onto a cargo plane.
CNN Producer Jim Barnett contributed to this report.
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