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Inspection Team Says U.S. Plane Detained in China Can Be Flown Out

Aired May 4, 2001 - 16:15   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.
JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Late developments on the story of that U.S. Navy plane, the one held on Hainan island for all these weeks now. There are further developments. This has been a big subject in our Web chat, what was going to happen with that plane. Joining us now from the Pentagon, military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, what is the latest here?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, that five-member civilian team from Lockheed Martin that went there to try to figure out if the plane could be repaired and flown out has completed its inspection and phoned back to the Pentagon a very brief report, indicating that their initial conclusion is that they do believe the plane could be repaired and flown off of the runway there, but they didn't give many details about how long they thought it would take and exactly what would have to be done, because they were speaking from China. They didn't believe that they were having a private conversation.

So the details of their assessment will be passed on to the U.S. Pacific Command when the team leaves tomorrow and flies to Hawaii to give a detailed briefing of what they found. But the team was able to get six hours on the plane today, they were able to get power to the plane. The Chinese authorities finally did provide electricity. They were able to look everything over. They do think it can be repaired.

The question is: will China release the plane, and will China let the United States repair it and fly it out? Pentagon officials indicate that China seem to prefer the option where the plane would have to be cut into pieces and shipped out either by plane or boat. The United States, obviously, says the fastest way to get the plane out and put this incident behind the two countries is to repair it and fly it, if that's possible. And the team indicates that they believe that is possible -- Joie.

CHEN: Jamie, yes, I understand that Secretary Rumsfeld has indicated that he does favor that as an option? Is it more of a political statement or is it really the military technical concerns about what happens with the plane that's driving that interest in getting it out, flying it out?

MCINTYRE: Well, the Pentagon has thought all over along that the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get the plane out is to fly it out. The question was one of practicality, how practical would it be to repair. If, for instance, they needed to replace a wing, or if there was some major structural damage to the plane that would require it to be in a plane repair facility, it might not be practical to do that.

But the team has decided that it could be repaired on the ground and flown, and there is a symbolic aspect to it as well. Obviously, if the plane is patched up and flies out, it flies out intact, it's more of a matter of pride. If it has to be cut into pieces and shipped, then it's more sort of a symbolic victory for the Chinese. So, there's a little bit of symbolism, but there's also practicality involved as well. It's cheaper and easier to fly it if you can repair it.

CHEN: CNN's military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre for us with the latest from the Pentagon today. Thanks.

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