LAST parts of U.S. Navy spy plane arrive in the Philippines after leaving Chinese island - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

LAST parts of U.S. Navy spy plane arrive in the Philippines after leaving Chinese island


MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The last parts of a U.S. Navy spy plane that collided with a Chinese fighter jet, sparking a crisis in U.S.-China relations, were flown from Hainan island on Tuesday, the U.S. Navy said.

The fuselage of the EP-3E and equipment used to dismantle the plane were packed onto a Russian-made Antonov 124 _ the largest cargo aircraft in the world. The transport plane arrived in Manila on Tuesday evening to refuel before going on to Hawaii.

``The team has completely packed up and recovered all the parts and cleared the work site of all equipment used in the operation and that all left with the AN-124,'' said Navy Chief Journalist Doug Holl of the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii.

The massive Russian-designed transport plane took off from Hainan at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, Holl said. Philippine military Chief of Staff Diomedio Villanueva confirmed the plane's arrival in Manila about three hours later.

The EP-3E, packed with sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment, made an emergency landing April 1 on Hainan after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea.

The collision and China's 11-day detention of the U.S. crew caused the worst tensions between Beijing and Washington since the bombing of China's embassy in Yugoslavia by U.S. planes in 1999.

China blamed the crew of the U.S. spy plane for the collision and accused the United States of violating its sovereignty by making the unauthorized emergency landing on Hainan. Chinese President Jiang Zemin demanded an apology and an end to U.S. surveillance missions off China's coast.

Washington blamed the Chinese pilot, saying he flew recklessly and collided with the EP-3E. The Chinese pilot parachuted out of his jet and is presumed dead after a lengthy search failed to find him.

A 12-member team from Lockheed Martin, the plane's manufacturer, that was sent to dismantle the EP-3E was expected to leave Hainan on Wednesday, Holl said.

After arriving in Hawaii, the EP-3E was to be transported to a Lockheed Martin facility in Marietta, Ga., where it would be reassembled in preparation for returning to service.

Other parts of the aircraft have already been taken to Kadena Air Base on the Japanese island of Okinawa, Holl said.

The United States had wanted to repair the plane and fly it out of Hainan under its own power, but China refused to allow that.

The two sides eventually compromised, agreeing that the EP-3E would be transported out, but disassembled in such a way that it could be put back together again.

The collision inflamed anti-U.S. feelings in China, still strong two years after the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Beijing never accepted Washington's explanation that the bombing was a mistake caused by faulty targeting.

In Washington, politicians angered by Beijing's detention of the U.S. plane's crew canceled visits to China and warned of commercial retaliation if the crew wasn't returned. The crew was released after President Bush approved a letter saying the United States was ``very sorry'' for the loss of the Chinese pilot and for the U.S. plane's unauthorized landing on Hainan.

Both sides have said they now want to put the incident behind them.

``China-U.S. relations, though having encountered difficulties recently, now have momentum for improvement,'' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said Tuesday.

China has asked for compensation for its plane and pilot. Washington says it will only pay expenses incurred in the EP-3E recovery operation.

Vice President Cheney said Monday that the plane incident showed the sides needed to keep working to build a relationship ``that's founded on trust.''

``We're not enemies at this point, probably not friends either,'' Cheney said in a radio interview.
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