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Secretary Rumsfeld Says Returning Crew Is Priority

Text: Rumsfeld Says Returning EP-3 Crew Home Is Priority

(Defense Department statement on U.S. plane held in China)

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he is "heartened by the good spirits and health of the 24 men and women in the crew" of the Navy reconnaissance plane involved in a collision with a Chinese jet fighter over the South China Sea April 1.

In a statement issued April 4, Rumsfeld said that Admiral Dennis Blair, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, has made "the necessary preparations to ensure (the crew's) speedy return when that is made possible."

A Navy EP-3E ARIES II maritime patrol aircraft on a routine surveillance mission over international waters in the South China Sea was intercepted by two Chinese fighter aircraft on April 1 at 9:15 a.m. local time in China, according to the U.S. Pacific Command. The Navy plane and one of the Chinese jets collided, causing sufficient damage for the U.S. plane to issue a "Mayday" distress signal and divert to an airfield on Hainan Island in China, the command said.

Following is the text of the statement as released by the Defense Department:

(begin text)

STATEMENT OF SECRETARY RUMSFELD ON EP-3 CREW

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld today released the following statement:

"I join President Bush in being heartened by the good spirits and health of the 24 men and women in the crew of the EP-3. I hope and expect that their good treatment will continue. Admiral Blair has made the needed preparations to ensure their speedy return when that is made possible. That is and remains our number one priority -- the speedy and safe return of our people. The Services have taken every step possible to stay in touch with the families of the service members and ensure that they are kept fully informed of circumstances as they develop.

"I understand and appreciate the noble work of our uniformed men and women in defending our country. This is but one example of the special qualities of honor and character that are so evident in those who voluntarily choose to live a life of military service."

(end text)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)


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