U.S. technicians completed their inspection of the damaged Navy spy plane in China and prepared to return to the United States to report their recommendations on how to retrieve the aircraft, a Pentagon official said Friday. “All required inspections are complete,” said spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Terry Sutherland. “They got what they needed.” The inspection took a day longer than originally planned because on Thursday the Chinese military hampered the technicians’ efforts by refusing to provide power to check the plane’s electrical systems. The work went smoothly on Friday, Sutherland said. They spent about six hours with the plane and finished their work at 4:30 p.m. local time (4:30 a.m. EDT), the spokesman said. In addition to checking the electrical system aboard the plane they checked the fuel, hydraulics and other systems. Sutherland said the five-member technical team plans to leave China’s Hainan island Saturday morning and fly to Hawaii to report to officials of U.S. Pacific Command, which is responsible for military operations in Asia. The damaged reconnaissance plane has been on the tarmac of a military airfield on Hainan since April 1. It made an emergency landing after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea. Its American crew was held on Hainan for 11 days before being released, resulting in weeks of touchy relations between Washington and Beijing. U.S. officials in Beijing have been told by Chinese authorities that China would not permit the EP-3E Aries II spy plane to be repaired and flown off Hainan, although Sutherland said Friday that it remained
unclear whether the Bush administration would press for such permission. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday it was unclear how the plane would be recovered. If the plane is not flown off the island by its own power, it might have to be partially disassembled and shipped off by air or sea transport. It is unclear whether the Navy intends to return the plane to service. The Bush administration has insisted it will resume normal surveillance flights off China’s coast – over China’s strong objections – but there apparently have been no flights since the April 1 collision. On Thursday, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley was asked about reports that the Chinese on Hainan had confiscated items from the American technical team. Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, said the team was not allowed to bring into China their own satellite telephone system. That left the team with phone communications that could be monitored by the Chinese. The technicians from Lockheed Martin Corp., maker of the EP-3E, spent about four hours inspecting the plane Wednesday. The plane lost its nose cone and at least one of its four propeller engines was damaged. The impact pushed the plane into an 8,000-foot dive before the pilot regained control. The Chinese fighter apparently broke in half, killing pilot Wang Wei. It wasn’t clear whether the problems encountered by the Lockheed team were related to Rumsfeld’s order to require advance approval of any Defense Department contact with the Chinese military. On Wednesday the Pentagon released, and then withdrew, a memo saying it was suspending such ties. The Pentagon had previously said it was going to reconsider how to proceed with contacts.