U.S. pilot struggled to regain control after collision
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Dropping 8,000 feet after its collision with a Chinese fighter jet, the pilot struggled to regain control of the aircraft, and the Navy surveillance plane suffered much more damage than originally thought, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
After issuing a mayday call, the U.S. pilot made an emergency landing Sunday on the Chinese island of Hainan and remains there along with his 23 crew members as a standoff between the United States and China over the return of the plane and the crew continues.
"Our crew got the plane on the ground with considerable damage -- pretty hairy," said Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Others described the pilot's efforts to save the EP-3 reconnaissance plane and 24-member crew as heroic. Pentagon officials said it was five minutes after the time of impact before the mayday call was issued, indicating the pilot was struggling to regain control of the crippled plane.
"The air crew did a marvelous job of saving the aircraft," U.S. Ambassador to China Joseph Prueher said Tuesday on CNN's "Larry King Live." "The pilot, after a lot of damage to the aircraft, was faced with a situation of either ditching the aircraft in the ocean or bailing out or landing the aircraft, and he made the choice that everyone would have wanted him to make -- to land at the nearest available airfield, which happened to be on Chinese soil, And he did it well."
A photograph released by the Chinese news agency Xinhua showed the plane missing much of its nose cone and two of its four engines sustained heavy damage.
Officials said the plane suffered more damage than originally thought in the collision, including the propeller damage, and the loss of wing flaps and the air speed indicator.
Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said Tuesday the plane had about 15 minutes between the time of the impact and the time it landed on Hainan. During that time, Pentagon officials said the crew had time to destroy sensitive equipment and information on board the reconnaissance plane.
Pentagon sources said the crew was taken off the plane by armed Chinese personnel.
The EP-3 is capable of a 12-hour flight and has a range of 3,000 nautical miles.
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