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China: Minimal survival chance for missing pilot

Wang Wei
China media has hailed Wang Wei as a national hero  

HONG KONG, China -- China says there is a very minimal chance of survival for the missing fighter pilot Wang Wei, whose aircraft collided with the U.S. Navy spy plane.

It's been 12 days since Wang, 33, parachuted into the South China Sea after the collision with the U.S. EP-3E surveillance plane on April 1.

On Thursday the official Xinhua News Agency quoted a survival expert as saying that it would have been a miracle that Wang is still alive.

Liu Feng, from a Beijing-based air force institute, told Xinhua that Wang could have been injured by the collision and sunken into the sea unable to open his life-saving equipment.

The report is so far the most pessimistic account of the ongoing rescue operation for the missing pilot, China's biggest air and sea search.

Liu said Wang could have been hurt or gone into a coma as he ejected from the rolling plane that had gone out of control, although the pilot of another fighter accompanying Wang to tail the U.S. plane had said he saw Wang's parachute open up.

Wang might not been able to open the life raft equipped with food and a desalinater, and without such equipment, Wang wouldn't have held on for 72 hours, Liu added.

Liu went on to say that any pilot could only last 72 hours even if everything went fine.

Nonetheless he said miracles shouldn't be ruled out if Wang had drifted to a nearby island and made full use of his life-saving gear.

Xinhua reported Thursday the search for Wang had so far covered more than 300,000 square kilometers, involving more than 100 ship patrols and 109 plane searches from the Navy and more than 1,000 boat patrols from local authorities in southern China.

Two days earlier, the semi-official China News Agency quoted local fishermen as saying they were hopeful that Wang was still alive based on their own experiences.

So far China has not called off the search, although most observers agree that it can only be a matter of time before China finally declares that Wang Wei is missing, presumed dead.

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Xinhua News Agency

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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