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U.S. Officials Await Word to Pick Up American Detainees in China

Aired April 11, 2001 - 10:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: More news now on those detainees, who are still on Hainan Island. And yet the Chinese officials and American officials coming out today and saying they will soon be released. There's a plane standing by on Guam waiting to head to Hainan Island to pickup those crew members. With more on that, let's go to Guam where we find Marina Kamimura joining us now from videophone -- Marina, hello.

MARINA KAMIMURA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Daryn. I'm standing at -- in front of Guam's international airport where a plane similar to the one behind me that is sitting in that hangar, a plane that has been chartered from Continental Airlines, is undergoing last-minute preparations before it takes off to Hainan Island. We're told that among those last-minute preparations, the crew is being assembled right now, that the plane is out on the tarmac. Again, it is not the plane behind me, but one very similar to it.

We expect that the journey to Hainan Island once it gets underway will take about four hours. Once they are there, the crew members will be put onto the plane, the detainees put onto the plane. They are going to be making a return trip to Guam.

We do not believe, though, it will be to this airport. Instead, we believe that they will be heading to the Andersen Air Base here in the northern part of Guam where they will be transferred to military plane to make that journey back home. The first pit stop being Hawaii, of course, where they will be debriefed by pacific command, and then off back to Washington state, Daryn.

KAGAN: Marina Kamimura joining through videophone technology there from Guam, thank you.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: And now to extend that itinerary, let's turn to Hawaii. A government official in Hawaii says plans are already being made for the arrival of the United States crew. CNN national correspondent Martin Savidge is standing by in Honolulu where it's very early in the day with more on this. Martin, good morning again.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again, Stephen.

The news of the impending release of the 24 crew members came to Hawaii actually in the middle of the night. And immediately after, military officials began calling in their staff members to start working on the plans for the possibility they say of the arrival of the crew coming to Hawaii and specifically the Hickam Air Force Base. Right now they are saying publicly that there is no guarantee that this is where the crew is going to end up, though privately they say it will be Hawaii. It makes great sense. It is obviously on the way back. It is the first U.S. soil that they can touch down on. And it's also headquarters to the Pacific Command that oversees all of them.

Preparations right now being made. First and foremost, officials say, one, get the crew back on U.S. soil. Two then is the debrief. And this is very important and very vital.

There's the decompression period that they believe that the crew is going to need emotionally. But the government needs to get a full, clear understanding, a thorough debrief, as to what actually took place in that collision that took place in the skies. And this will be their real opportunity to do it without the Chinese there having the possibility to listen in.

Number three, there is going to be medical checkup. That's routine. And then fourth and finally but very important, get these crew members back to families, although they admit could be a couple of days after they arrive here in Hawaii.

There's also probably going to be a ceremony. And it is no doubt going to be very public. The military knows that the return of these crew members after all that has gone on is very important, not just to the crew, not just to their families, but also to the American people. So you can expect a very formal and a very public ceremony that will take place when they touch the ground. It's also expected that civilian leaders from Washington, DC will be on hand to greet them as well.

FRAZIER: In Honolulu, Martin Savidge reporting at the start of long day for him. Martin, thank you.

Well, the diplomatic stalemate and today's announcement of the release are all resonating deeply in Washington state where crew members are based. Joining us now from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station is CNN's Lilian Kim with the perspective from there -- Lilian.

LILIAN KIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Stephen, it's pretty early here on the west coast. So the people are still learning about the developments. But those who have been watching the coverage are, of course, thrilled and relieved to hear that the 24 crew members will be returning home soon.

The Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane and the crew is based here at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. And this is very tight-knit community. Since this standoff began, yellow ribbons have been seen on just about every lamppost, telephone poll, and tree on base and in Oak Harbor, which is the town adjacent to the naval air station.

In fact, there are so many yellow ribbons that stores in town sold out a few days after the standoff began. Now, as you can imagine, these past 11 days have been especially tense for family members. In the beginning, they didn't know what the conditions were like for their loved ones in China. It wasn't until after a few days since this standoff began that they learned that their loved ones were not being mistreated emotionally or physically.

Nevertheless, they want those 24 crew members back home safe and sound and as soon as possible. And when they finally get here, there will be a celebration to welcome them home. There is always a celebration after a tour of duty. But this one is expected to be more grand and spectacular.

Reporting live from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state, I'm Lilian Kim. Stephen, back to you.

FRAZIER: Lilian, thank you. And now back to Daryn.

KAGAN: News of this broke very early this morning, about 7:00 a.m. here on the East Coast, right before President Bush took off for his trip today, his one-day trip to North Carolina. Our White House correspondent Major Garrett is on the road with the president today. With more insight on how this wrapped up in the final moments, here's Major. Good morning, Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn. Yes, the news broke about 7:00 a.m. Eastern. But there was quite a bit of presidential activity long before that.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has just given us a rundown of activities starting very early this morning Eastern time. At 12:45 Eastern time, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, received a telephone call from the State Department notifying her that the Chinese officials wanted to see the final draft, the final text of that letter from ambassador Joseph Prueher.

That text was provided to the Chinese officials. And about 5:00 a.m. Eastern time, U.S. Ambassador Prueher was called to meet with the Chinese officials. And at that meeting between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Eastern time, he was given verbal assurances from the Chinese government that in fact all 24 U.S. personnel on that spy plane would in fact be released.

At 5:40 a.m. Eastern time, the president of the United States was notified by Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, of this good news. We are told by the press secretary Ari Fleischer that at that moment the president turned to his wife Laura, also shared the good news with her.

Following that, at 6:30 a.m. Eastern time, Chinese television confirmed the release of the 24 U.S. service personnel. It was at that time the president was called a second time confirming the fact that the crew would be released. At 6:50 this morning Eastern time, the president arrived a the Oval Office with Condoleezza Rice, his national security advisers, and other senior advisers. And they began plotting out the course of events that we have seen transpire this morning. Ari Fleischer also tells us that the president is monitoring all logistics efforts to return the crew from Hainan Island, first to Guam, then to Hawaii, and later on to Whidbey Island. And he is under no -- since there is no sense whatsoever right now that there will be any logistics glitches that everything should go smoothly.

One last thing, Ari Fleischer did say the president has no intention of commenting right now, nor do any other senior officials, about what will happen at that April 18 meeting between U.S. officials and Chinese officials to discussion the midair collision and future surveillance flights along the Chinese coast, Daryn.

KAGAN: Major, thank you so much.

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