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China to Allow Inspection of Downed U.S. Plane

Officials said five or six civilian contractors will determine how to disassemble the EP-3E plane for possible shipping back to the U.S.

China announced Sunday that American officials would be allowed to examine the crippled plane for the first time since it made an emergency landing April 1 after colliding with a Chinese jet.

Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday that the Chinese invitation to look over the plane was “an encouraging sign.” China apparently rejected a U.S. plan to try to repair the plane and fly it off Hainan. Cheney indicated a barge may have to carry the $80 million plane off the island.

China’s official news agency reported that the U.S. had agreed to consider making a payment in relation to returning the plane. Vice President Cheney said there would only be reimbursement for Chinese assistance with removing the plane, and no other compensation.

The inspection team will also try to determine what military and hardware secrets, if any, the Chinese may have obtained from the spy plane. American officials say the crew was only able to destroy parts of the plane’s sophisticated eavesdropping equipment.

The inspection team will be on Hainan island for at least two days, officials said. If the U.S. receives permission to remove the plane, a separate team would travel to the island for disassembling and shipping.

The April 1 collision occurred during what U.S. officials described as a routine surveillance mission. The Chinese jet fighter crashed into the sea and the pilot is presumed dead. The American plane made an emergency landing on Hainan island, but the crew of 24 was detained for 11 days.

They were released after the U.S. issued a statement saying it was “very sorry” for the death of the Chinese pilot and for the unauthorized entry into Chinese airspace for the emergency landing.

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