Saturday, April 14, 2001

EP-3 pilot: 'This guy just killed us!'

Lt. Osborne described the collision
with a Chinese fighter jet before
departing for Whidbey Island
this morning

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The pilot of the Navy EP-3 surveillance plane, whose crew was held for 11 days, says his first thoughts seconds after the collision with a Chinese jet fighter was "this guy just killed us!"

Lt. Shane Osborn, pilot and mission commander, today said he remembers looking up from the right seat of his 116-foot aircraft and seeing the Chinese F-8 jet fighter in flames.

Twenty-minutes later after gaining control of his aircraft Osborn made an emergency landing on Hainan island.

At a news conference before leaving Hickam Air Force Base for the unit's home station at Whidbey Naval Air Station near Seattle, Osborn said his crew has no reason to apologize to the Chinese.

"I'm here to tell you we did it right," said Osborn. No apology is necessary on our part."

Following the five-hour flight to Washington state the 22 Navy crew members will face a gala homecoming celebration.

The EP-3E was "straight, steady, holding altitude, heading away from Hainan island, on autopilot, when the accident occurred," Osborn said.

This undated picture shows a Chinese fighter pilot maneuvering
his jet alongside a U.S. surveillance plane during a mission over
the South China Sea. This plane has the same fuselage number
as the fighter in a video shown yesterday by Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld, who cited the aggressiveness of Chinese
planes on previous U.S. surveillance missions in the area.
The video was shot in January.

Osborn's vivid account of the moments after the collision with the Chinese fighter was the first the crew has given since it was released from captivity earlier this week.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Mellos, described the frantic minutes after impact as "mayhem."

The plane fell 7,500 feet before Osborn was able to gain even control.

"Thank God for the training we do every day," Mellos said. "Without it, we'd be having a different press conference."

Osborn said the Chinese were polite and respectful and fed them well but, he added, the crew suffered lack of sleep and unpleasant interrogations.

The crew was questioned for four to five hours on the first night, keeping them up for at least 30 hours during its first day in captivity.

Then there were numerous, unannounced wake up calls at all times.

"I tried to steal some sleep when I could," he said.

None of the other 22 crew members spoke; they lined up behind Osborn and Mellos before boarding a C-9 military aircraft.

The Navy crew spent 26 hours meeting with investigators since arriving here Thursday morning.

Their plane is still on Hainan island.

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