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  • BusinessLwyr BusinessLwyr Apr 19, 2001 6:22 PM Flag

    <OT> First Person (end)

    The dive continued and some crew members donned parachutes. At about 8,000 feet, Osborne regained straight and level flight. They considered ditching the aircraft in the South China Sea but dismissed that option because it was certain to result in loss of life. They headed for the nearest land, Hainan Island. The U.S. crew now faced the most difficult landing of their lives. They made numerous mayday, mayday, mayday radio calls on internationally recognized emergency frequencies. The Chinese did not respond. Somehow, they managed to get the airplane on the ground.

    Their next immediate task was to destroy the sensitive electronic surveillance equipment aboard the EP-3. Meanwhile the Chinese military had approached the aircraft in vehicles and were yelling at them through loudspeakers to deplane. The next 11 days would be a very uncertain time for them.

    When we met them, they told us that they had not been abused or mistreated. Their food was adequate and plentiful. Sort of like eating in a Chinese restaurant every day one of them said. On the forth day, they got some coffee. On the fifth day, some cokes were provided. The crew did not know what kind of transport would be provided for their return home. They were pleased and surprised to see a chartered airliner from the United States.

    The rest of the flight from Haikou to Anderson AFB on Guam was uneventful. During the 5 hour flight the crew was treated to the movie Men of Honor and enjoyed a first class meal. We did not know it at the time but our landing at Anderson AFB was carried live on national television. We taxied to the parking ramp at Anderson where many people had turned out to welcome all of us home. Individuals and families with kids, both military and civilian waved American flags and cheered, showing support for the returning U.S. spy plane crew. Once the 24 U. S. crewmembers and the military Repatriation Team had deplaned at Anderson, they immediately boarded waiting buses and were whisked away.

    The Continental crew then became the object of intense media attention. CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, Reuters and various print media interviewed us. A dizzying swirl of attention after a very long day. We were happy, tired, and pleased that the mission was so successful as Tom flew the last segment, a 10-minute flight back to Guam International Airport. This time our passengers included Bill Meehan, President of Continental Micronesia, Guam Governor Carl Gutierrez, Lieutenant Governor Bordallo and others.

    We thought the day was just about over but we had one more surprise in store. After landing, we were given a heros welcome of our own. The airport fire department was in place to give us the traditional water cannon salute, a rainbow arch of water for us to taxi under. A reception was held at the gate with food, balloons, commemorative plaques, and more media interviews with the local television station.

    This was very heady stuff.

    As I look back on this one of a kind operation. It could not have happened without the tremendous effort and skills of many people working behind the scenes. Bill Meehan, Mitch Dubner at the SOCC in Houston, Tom Rinow at the CMI SOCC, Captain Ralph Freeman, CMI Director of Flight Operations, and
    many others had major rolls in coordinating this flight. It was accomplished through teamwork. The fact that it came off without a hitch is testimony to how well all these people did their jobs.

    The exposure that Continental Airlines received over this is a marketing managers dream come true. We will be remembered by millions of people as the company who conducted the China Rescue Mission. This was a proud day for Continental Airlines and for America.

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