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China Agrees to Release U.S. Crew

The U.S. and China announced a deal early this morning on the release the 24 American crew members who have been detained since their plane collided April 1 with a Chinese fighter jet off of China’s coast.

In the negotiated statement, the United States said it was “very sorry” for the presumed death of the Chinese pilot and that the American plane landed on China’s Hainan island without permission. But a U.S. letter outlining the deal did not accept blame for the collision. China had demanded an apology.

President Bush said the Chinese government had indicated “that the crew would leave promptly,” and that “we are working on arrangements to pick them up and bring them home.”

A Chinese foreign minister said the crew would be released on “humanitarian grounds” as soon as “appropriate travel procedures” were set.

The fate of the damaged American EP-3E reconnaissance plane is still uncertain. The American letter sets up an April 18 meeting to discuss the release of the plane. The letter also notes a Chinese demand to discuss future American reconnaissance near China at the meeting.

The China-U.S. standoff started when, during what officials in Washington call a routine mission, a pair of Chinese fighter jets began to tail the U.S. spy plane. The American plane collided with one of the jets 80 miles south of the island of Hainan. The U.S. plane made an emergency landing at an airbase on Hainan, while the Chinese fighter crashed into the South China Sea, presumably killing the Chinese pilot.

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