Cheney says U.S. plane may be taken off island in crates |

Cheney says U.S. plane may be taken off island in crates

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday the downed U.S. surveillance plane still held on a Chinese island ”may well have to be crated out” because of the damage sustained in a collision with a Chinese fighter.

”We want the airplane back, and we have not said exactly how that has to be done,” Cheney said on NBC’s ”Meet the Press.”

The EP-3E was conducting surveillance off China’s southern coast on April 1 when it collided with the Chinese jet. China held the 24-member U.S. crew for 11 days after they made an emergency landing on Hainan island in southern China.

The surveillance plane’s outside left propellor tomahawked the Chinese plane in half. The smaller plane’s shattered tail punched a hole in the U.S. plane’s fuselage and the fighter’s front section chopped off the spy plane’s nose cone.

China so far has refused U.S. requests for permission to repair the plane there and fly it home. Defense Department officials said last week that talks are continuing through diplomatic channels.

”The airplane will be returned,” Cheney said Sunday. ”There have been negotiations under way as to figure out how to do that. My guess is it may well have to be crated out, partly because it’s in such bad shape.

”Whether or not you actually leave it there and try to repair it and then fly it out or crate it out, that’s a subject to be negotiated with the Chinese.”

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said a preliminary assessment by U.S. technicians was that it ”may be possible to repair it sufficiently to fly it out.”

While Rumsfeld said President Bush would make the final decision, ”I think that certainly it would be logical it would be flown out.”

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