Military officials and civilian engineers arrived on Hainan Island yesterday to begin dismantling the crippled EP-3 surveillance plane that made an emergency landing there April 1 after colliding with a Chinese jet.
The dismantled aircraft parts will be loaded into twoRussian cargo aircraft, and then flown to a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan.
Military officials say it will take about a month to dismantle the $80 million plane built by Lockheed Martin, a four-engine turboprop, about the size of a Boeing 737 commercial jet.
Chinese officials would not allow American military to repair the plane in China or to fly the parts home in a U.S. aircraft. The Defense Department hired Russian air cargo firm Polyot to transport the dismantled plane.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis acknowledged that the Navy approved the deal, despite rumors that Polyot may have carried MiG fighter jets to Yugoslavia to aid President Slobodan Milosevic, in violation of an international arms embargo.
“The process involves several things, packaging the plane up and getting the plane home,” Davis told the Associated Press. “We needed a company that had dealt with this type of situation before and was reliable.”
The April collision, which killed the pilot of the Chinese jet, spawned a diplomatic standoff when China refused to release the crew of 24 Americans who landed in Hainan.
The crew was finally released when 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.