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Context of 'April 8, 2001: US Refuses to Apologize for Collision of Spy Plane with Chinese Fighter'
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US spy planes kept a close eye on China during live-fire military exercises
A US spy plane buzzed the Chinese coast this week, one of several warplanes deployed close to Chinese territorial waters amid live-fire exercises by the PLA Navy, according to a think tank.
The Beijing-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative said a US Air Force RC-135W electronic reconnaissance aircraft made an unusually close flight along China's eastern coast on Tuesday, coming within 40 nautical miles of Qingdao, the headquarters of People's Liberation Army Navy's North Sea Fleet.
An RC-135W and a P-8A anti-submarine aircraft also patrolled the South China Sea on Wednesday during live-fire exercises in the disputed waters, according to the think tank.
Last week, US spy planes patrolled along the southeast coast of Guangdong province before heading south to the disputed Paracel Islands, also in the South China Sea, according to open-source aviation radar responder records.
The think tank said the aircraft involved in the patrols last week and on Wednesday temporarily "disappeared" from public radar records when flying over the eastern to northern section of the Paracels, possibly "having turned off their responders".
State broadcaster China Central Television said near-shore patrols enabled planes to detect electronic signals on land in their mission to collect intelligence on the PLA.
"The patrols enable them to obtain more information in the shortest time and more valuable signals in the most efficient manner," the broadcaster said.
At the same time, PLA's Liaoning aircraft carrier strike group has been conducting exercises near Taiwan.
Last September, China accused US warplanes of masquerading as civilian aircraft in close-shore reconnaissance missions, posing a "serious security threat." Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said identity disguise was a "common trick," with the US Air Force carrying out such exercises at least 100 times in 2020.
In August, a US surveillance plane flew into the no-fly zone China announced for a military exercise in the Yellow Sea, prompting a protest from the Chinese defense ministry.
US Spy Plane Makes Closest-Ever Pass to Chinese Territory, Flying 25 Naut. Miles Off Coast - Report
The US military has dramatically increased its daily spy plane flights near Chinese territory, with no area more intensely patrolled than the northern South China Sea, which connects to the Taiwan Strait and East China Sea.
A US spy plane made the closest pass to the Chinese coast ever recorded on Tuesday, flying just 25.3 nautical miles away.
USAF RC-135U Combat Sent #AE01D5 just set a new record of 25.33NM, the shortest distance US reconnaissance aircraft have reached from the China's coastlines, based on public data so far.
In addition, there was also a P-8A & an EP-3E spotted over the #SouthChinaSea, March 22. pic.twitter.com/uLv49u70Gv— SCS Probing Initiative (@SCS_PI) March 22, 2021
According to the images shared by SCSPI of the aircraft’s flight path, the Combat Sent’s closest pass to the Chinese coast was immediately off the coast of Shantou, a prefecture-level city in eastern Guangdong Province near the southern end of the Taiwan Strait.
The USAF has two Combat Sent aircraft, which have a variety of specialized equipment for “locating and identifying foreign military land, naval and airborne radar signals,” according to a reference page on Military.com. Such an aircraft could be used to gather considerable information on People’s Liberation Army radar equipment, such as those operating out of the Shantou Waisha Airfield, a People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) air base on the coast east of Shantou.
US intelligence flights have not only increased in frequency, but have also gotten closer and closer to Chinese territory. Last July, a US Navy P-8A Poseidon flew within just 41 nautical miles of the Chinese coast off Zhejiang, just north of the Taiwan Strait, which was the closest pass a US spy plane had made in years. However, other US intelligence aircraft have also made very close passes while disguised as civilian aircraft. However, SCSPI, which noted the US aircraft changing their International Civil Aviation Organization hex codes in mid-flight, gave no range information.
“We’re united in the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, where countries follow the rules, cooperate whenever they can, and resolve their differences peacefully. And in particular, we will push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way,” Blinken added.
Last month, two US Navy aircraft carriers, hauling nearly 160 aircraft between them, conducted joint military drills in the South China Sea with their strike groups of other warships.
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U.S. Spy Plane, Chinese Jet Collide
A U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet sent to intercept it over the South China Sea on Sunday and made an emergency landing in China. The Chinese government said the Chinese aircraft crashed and its pilot is missing.
China blamed the U.S. aircraft for the collision off the southern Chinese island of Hainan. But the commander of U.S. Pacific military forces said the Chinese planes were at fault, sharply criticizing China for more "aggressive" tactics in intercepting U.S. planes.
"It's not a normal practice to play bumper cars in the air," Adm. Dennis Blair told reporters at Camp Smith in Honolulu.
The American EP-3 plane landed at a military airfield at Lingshui on the southern end of Hainan, and China assured the United States that the 24 crewmembers were safe.
The U.S. Pacific Command asked for the return of the crew and aircraft.
U.S. officials have had no contact since the crew since the initial report that it landed with no injuries.
China says the U.S. plane
made an emergency landing
The U.S. plane was on a routine surveillance flight in international airspace when two Chinese fighters intercepted it, said Col. John Bratton, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command. Officials in Honolulu showed a map that put the collision about 80 miles southeast of Hainan, well outside the 12-mile territorial sea and airspace.
A U.S. Navy EP-3 similar
to the one involved in the
"The U.S. side has total responsibility for this event," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that it had made a "serious" protest.
It said two Chinese fighters were sent up to track the plane as it approached Chinese airspace. "The U.S. plane abruptly diverted toward the Chinese planes, and its head and left wing collided with one of the Chinese planes, causing the Chinese plane to crash," it said. It said rescuers were searching for the missing Chinese pilot.
But Blair blamed the Chinese fighters, which he said were similar to F-16s, fly much faster and have more maneuverability than the EP3, which is about the size of a Boeing 737.
"Big airplanes like this fly straight and level otheir path, little airplanes zip around them," he said. "Under international airspace rules, the faster more maneuverable aircraft has obligation to stay out of the way of the slower aircraft."
"It's pretty obvious who bumped into who," Blair said. "I'm going on common sense now because I haven't talked to our crew."
He said the collision was likely an accident - but that it reflected a "pattern of increasingly unsafe behavior" by the Chinese military. He said U.S. officials had protested to Beijing earlier about the behavior but "did not get a satisfactory response."
"Intercepts by Chinese fighters over the past couple months have become more aggressive to the point that we felt they were endangering the safety of the Chinese and American aircraft," he said.
Distrust has risen between Beijing and Washington in recent weeks, exacerbated by China's recent detention of two scholars with links to the United States. China, in turn, has been protesting the prospect of the United States' selling new arms to Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade Chinese province.
Commander Rex Totty, another spokesman for the Pacific Command, said U.S. planes routinely run reconnaissance missions in the area and "it is routine for Chinese aircraft to respond by intercepting and shadowing us." He denied U.S. aircraft enter Chinese airspace.
The EP-3 - an unarmed four-engine propeller-driven plane - can pick up radio, radar, telephone, e-mail and fax traffic, said Nick Cook, an aviation expert with Jane's Defense Weekly in London.
The U.S. plane took off from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, the U.S. military said. It is based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state and was flying with a crew of 22 Navy personnel and one each from the Air Force and the Marines.
Bates Gill, a China expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said China was acting like any military power by trying to ward off "activities aimed at its airspace."
The collision with the American plane is a "small victory" from China's perspective, Gill said. "You've sent the message about intruding in airspace. You forced it to land. You've got your hands on it."
Cook noted a similar collision in the 1980s between a Soviet fighter jet and a Norwegian P-3 - similar to the EP-3 - over the Barents Sea, which lies north of Norway and Russia. Both planes landed safely, he said.
The incident comes at an uneasy time in U.S.-Chinese relations. The Bush administration has taken a warier attitude toward Beijing, and the president is reportedly leaning toward selling Taiwan much of the high-tech weapons it seeks - a sale bitterly opposed by China.
©MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters Limited contributed to this report
U.S. Spy Plane, Chinese Fighter Collide Over Sea
A U.S. Navy spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet collided Sunday over the South China Sea, causing the American craft to make an emergency landing in China and the Chinese plane to crash, U.S. and Chinese officials said.
The 24 crew members aboard the EP-3 U.S. reconnaissance plane were unhurt, but U.S. defense officials said they have been unable to establish contact with the crew since the craft came to ground on Hainan island, a Chinese province off the country’s southern coast. The pilot of the downed Chinese jet was reported missing.
American diplomats from Beijing were to arrive this morning on Hainan to press for the release of the crew and plane, but it remained unclear how the Chinese would respond. The incident puts more strain on increasingly shaky Sino-U.S. relations.
U.S. officials said they would not be able to determine responsibility for the incident until they talked to crew members. They also warned the Chinese not to enter the top-secret aircraft, which the Americans insisted was “sovereign territory.”
China blamed the U.S. for the crash, which occurred about 9:15 a.m. Sunday in China (5:15 p.m. Saturday PST).
Two Chinese F-8 fighters were conducting “normal flight operations” about 65 miles southeast of Hainan when the American EP-3 suddenly veered toward one of the Chinese jets, a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
“The nose and left wing of the U.S. plane hit the Chinese plane and caused it to crash,” the statement said, adding that rescue crews were searching for the downed Chinese pilot.
“The U.S. should bear full responsibility,” declared Zhu Bangzao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
But Adm. Dennis Blair, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, said “common sense” suggests that the lighter, faster Chinese jets caused the collision with the heavier, clumsier EP-3, which is about the size of a Boeing 737.
“Big airplanes like this fly straight and level on their path. Little airplanes zip around them,” Blair told reporters in Honolulu. “It’s pretty obvious who bumped into who. I’m going on common sense now because I haven’t talked to our crew.”
According to U.S. officials, the American craft was on a routine surveillance mission out of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, when the two fighter jets came up alongside the EP-3 and “intercepted” it.
Although the intentions of the Chinese pilots were unclear, when “two fighter jets come up on [you], they’re generally not coming up to say hi,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kelly, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command.
Kelly said the EP-3 and one of the Chinese planes bumped into each other, causing enough damage that the pilot of the American craft issued a mayday distress signal and landed the disabled plane at an airfield on Hainan.
Kelly said that under international convention, “any military aircraft is essentially sovereign territory of its owner. So it cannot either be boarded, seized or inspected without the express permission of the U.S. government.”
U.S. defense officials said they expected China to “respect the integrity of the aircraft and the well-being and safety of the crew” and to facilitate the repair and return of the EP-3. Beijing said “proper arrangements” had been made for the U.S. crew but did not say where they were.
Sunday’s collision is likely to complicate already edgy relations between Washington and Beijing, including on the military front. A few months ago, a high-level People’s Liberation Army officer defected to the U.S. in an embarrassing setback for Beijing. In China, authorities have arrested two scholars with U.S. ties and charged one with spying.
This month, the Bush administration is to decide on an arms package for Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory. Supporters of Taiwan on Capitol Hill have urged the White House to sell the island advanced weapons, including several naval destroyers, to increase its ability to fend off any attack from the mainland.
U.S. officials said the air maneuvers leading up to Sunday’s crash are not uncommon, with an intercept by Chinese planes occurring in about one of every three U.S. patrol flights along the Chinese coast. But Blair said that the intercepts “have become more aggressive” over the last couple of months. The U.S. has protested about the “pattern of increasingly unsafe behavior” but “did not get a satisfactory response,” he said.
U.S. Aircraft Belongs to Sophisticated Class
The collision appeared to be the first between Chinese and American military planes.
The EP-3 belongs to a sophisticated class of land-based, long-range, anti-submarine patrol aircraft. Military analysts say that it contains top-of-the-line electronic data-gathering equipment that can intercept telephone calls and e-mail as well as radar and fax data.
Military analysts said the crew members would be able to erase all data and disable the surveillance equipment if such moves were deemed necessary.
Defense officials said the U.S. military sought to contact the downed EP-3 on Sunday but was unsuccessful. Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said that could have meant that the plane’s communications gear was broken as a result of the collision or that the crew had left the plane.
Quigley said he was unaware of any policy that would require crew members to remain on a plane to guard classified equipment after a landing on foreign soil.
“We are waiting right now for the Chinese government to give us the kind of cooperation that is expected of countries in situations like this,” Blair said. “But as time goes on, it’s increasingly worse, and it’s been 18 hours that we don’t have a phone call yet from our crew. We’re talking about a place that has telephones.”
American Military an Irritant to Many
Some China experts predicted that the disabling of the U.S. plane would be read by many in China as a small victory against the powerful U.S. military, which is an irritant to many in the country.
Bates Gill, a China expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said that from China’s perspective, “you’ve sent the message about intruding in airspace. You forced [the plane] to land. You’ve got your hands on it.”
Reaction in some Chinese Internet chat rooms was bellicose, echoing the angry response following the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1999, which set off anti-American riots across China.
“This is another armed provocation following the bombing of our embassy,” wrote one Internet user who signed his posting as Common Man No. 689. “Interrogate the U.S. pilots, confiscate the plane, and compensate us for our losses.”
Security around the U.S. Embassy was tightened, but no untoward incidents were reported by midmorning today.
State Department officials said that on Sunday, Joseph Prueher, the U.S. ambassador to China, and China’s vice foreign minister held an “initial meeting to resolve the situation.”
A retired Navy admiral, Prueher was head of U.S. forces in the Pacific before Blair and has close knowledge of U.S. military strategy and tactics in the region.
In Washington on Sunday, State Department spokeswoman Michelle King said: “We’ve been in touch with the Chinese since last night and throughout the day. We have been assured by the Chinese government that the crew are safe and well.”
President Bush, who returned to the White House on Sunday afternoon from Camp David, was briefed on the incident shortly after it occurred, White House officials said.
“We are monitoring the situation,” said Gordon Johndroe, a White House press aide.
U.S. military officials said it is routine for China’s planes to swoop alongside American planes flying off its coast, just as it is for U.S. planes to approach foreign military aircraft that fly in airspace off the United States. The purpose is to let the visitors know that the home nation is aware of their presence, and to test reactions.
The EP-3 is about 106 feet long. In a collision, the craft has the potential to do great damage to a smaller plane. One U.S. defense official said Sunday’s collision would be akin to a crash between a BMW and an 18-wheeler truck.
Of the 24 crew members on board the EP-3, all but a pilot and co-pilot were probably in the rear of the plane, involved in the electronic eavesdropping operation, defense officials said. The group included 22 Navy personnel, plus one Marine and one Air Force service member.
The Navy plane is part of the VQ-1 electronic countermeasures squadron based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state.
Beijing claims a broad swath of the South China Sea as Chinese waters, but other countries dispute those claims.
Hainan island, which is close to Vietnam and the disputed Spratley Islands, is dotted with military bases.
U.S. lawmakers appearing on Sunday TV talk shows underscored the sensitivity of the matter and the impact its resolution might have on Sino-U.S. relations.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the airplane “should not be inspected or entered by any Chinese authorities because of the nature of the equipment on board.”
Noting the recent tensions over Taiwan and the Chinese crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, McCain added, “This could be another episode in a series of problems that we’re having in our relations with China.”
“It’s obviously serious whenever a military collision like this takes place,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Albright said the incident pointed to the importance of keeping diplomatic channels open with China so that incidents between the two nations “can be dealt with quickly and peacefully.”
Chu reported from Beijing and Richter from Washington. Times staff writer Megan Garvey in Washington contributed to this report.
The Hainan Island Incident
On April 1, 2001, a US Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft was intercepted by two Chinese J-8II fighter jets, one of them piloted by Lt. Cdr Wang Wei of the PLA Navy, who made two close passes to the EP-3.
On his third close pass, he collided with the American aircraft and the J-8 (piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei) broke into two pieces leaving the EP-3’s radome detached completely and its No. 1 (outer left) propeller severely damaged.
Airspeed and altitude data were lost, the aircraft depressurized, and an antenna became wrapped around the tailplane. The J-8’s tail fin struck the EP-3’s left aileron, forcing it fully upright, and causing the US aircraft to roll to the left at three to four times its normal maximum rate.
Wang was forced to eject from his seriously damaged jet. The Chinese military conducted a 14-day search for the pilot in the South China Sea but failed to find him. Wang’s body was never recovered, and he was presumed dead. He was only nine days away from his 33rd birthday, according to China Military Online.
The crew of the EP-3 then carried out an emergency plan which included destroying sensitive items on board the aircraft, such as electronic equipment related to intelligence-gathering, documents, and data.
Lt. Cdr Wang Wei, who died in a mid-air crash in 2001. (Image: China Military Online)
The aircraft made an unauthorized emergency landing at Lingshui airfield, after at least 15 distress signals had gone unanswered, with the emergency code selected on the transponder. It landed at 170 knots (200 mph), with no flaps, no trim, and a damaged left elevator, weighing 108,000 pounds (49,000 kg).
Both the cause of the collision and the assignment of blame were disputed. The US government stated that the Chinese jet bumped the wing of the larger, slower, and less maneuverable EP-3.
After returning to the US soil, the pilot of the EP-3, Lt. Shane Osborn, was allowed to make a brief statement in which he said that the EP-3 was on autopilot and in straight-and-level flight at the time of the collision. In his interview with Frontline, he stated that he was just “guarding the autopilot”.
However, based on the account of Wang Wei’s wingman, the Chinese government stated that the American aircraft “veered at a wide-angle towards the Chinese”, in the process ramming the J-8. This claim cannot be verified since the Chinese government did not release data from the flight recorders of either aircraft, both of which are in its possession.
Meanwhile, the incident had a strong geopolitical reaction. The 24 crew members (21 men and 3 women) were detained over a period of 10 days, shortly after the US issued the “letter of the two sorries” to the Chinese. The Chinese military boarded the EP-3 and thoroughly stripped and examined the aircraft’s equipment.
The crew was only partially successful in their destruction of classified material, and some of the material they failed to destroy included cryptographic keys, signals intelligence manuals, and the names of National Security Agency employees. Some of the captured computers contained detailed information for processing PROFORMA communications from North Korea, Russia, Vietnam, China, and other countries.
The plane also carried information on the emitter parameters for US-allied radar systems worldwide. The fact that the United States could track PLAN submarines via signal transmission was also revealed to China.
Twenty years on, the United States and China continue to be at loggerheads over the South China Sea, the entire stretch of which Beijing claims to be its territory.
On March 22, a US Air Force RC-135U reconnaissance aircraft was flying close to South China’s coastal regions and was only 25.3 nautical miles away from China’s territorial sea baseline.
On August 25 last year, a US Air Force U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft had trespassed into a no-fly zone of a PLA live-fire exercise.
How a deadly collision with a US spy plane 18 years ago brought big changes to China's air force and navy
Few people would remember the name Wang Wei — the 33-year-old Chinese pilot who was killed 18 years ago when his fighter jet collided with a US spy plane in mid-air near Hainan Island.
But the incident was a key reason China’s military modernisation — especially of its air force and navy — was accelerated, according to analysts.
The collision happened on April 1, 2001, when the US reconnaissance aircraft was challenged by two People’s Liberation Army fighter jets. Wang’s J-8II jet crashed into the sea after it hit the US EP-3E plane, and he was killed because his parachute did not open in time as he tried to escape the aircraft, according to two independent military sources.
While there was no official commemoration of Wang’s death in China on Monday, analysts said the significance of the Hainan incident for the PLA could not be underestimated.
“His death was an accident but it set off many changes,” said Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming. “What happened 18 years ago spurred China to step up the modernisation of its military, especially aircraft development for the air force and navy.”
According to Zhou, the military’s top brass became determined to upgrade navy aircraft after the incident, eventually replacing all J-8 fighter jets with fourth-generation J-10 and J-11 fighter jets and JH-7 bombers. In addition to the new and more advanced models, the PLA also invested heavily in improving the features of its aircraft, such as emergency exit systems.
“Since then, the Chinese navy has set up a comprehensive air patrol system in the East and South China seas, while the advanced J-11 fighters now play the key role in dealing with all kinds of air confrontation with foreign counterparts,” Zhou said.
China began developing the country’s first stealth fighter, the J-20, in 2007. It was seen as a competitor to America’s fifth-generation jets, the F-22 and F-35, when they were launched in 2011, and was formally commissioned by the PLA in 2017.
Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the Hainan incident pushed the PLA to develop a strategy focused more on offshore defence than the onshore strategy advocated by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.
“China was not well versed in giving ‘professional and rational’ responses when the collision happened in 2001 because it followed this more inward-looking defence doctrine,” Li said.
Zhou said that the mid-air collision also helped to elevate the position of the Chinese navy, driving the leadership to allocate more naval resources and accelerate the modernisation programme. “Previously, the PLA was more focused on its army and the Chinese navy played a secondary role,” he said.
The incident sparked an 11-day diplomatic stand-off between Beijing and Washington, with each side blaming the other. All 24 American crew members were held by China after their damaged aircraft made an emergency landing on Hainan Island.
In recent years, Beijing has accused the US of sending warships and aircraft on reconnaissance missions near Hainan, where the PLA has set up its biggest naval base in Asia, but the American navy says it was conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.
Li said that if a similar collision happened today, “the consequences could be very different because the PLA now has more advanced aircraft, and it has set up a comprehensive crisis management system to deal with all kinds of provocations by the Americans.”
“The 2001 crash taught China a lesson — that a strong country cannot rely on a vibrant economy alone but also needs a strong military,” Li said. “That’s what they refer to as ‘comprehensive national strength.’”
Since the incident, and amid growing rivalry between China and the US, there have been more military stand-offs between the two sides. In 2017, two Chinese Su-30 fighter jets came within just 45 metres (150 feet) of an American plane, with one of the Su-30s flying inverted as it tried to intercept a US radiation detection plane over the East China Sea, according to the US Pacific Air Forces.
But Song Zhongping, a military commentator with Phoenix TV, believes a repeat of the Hainan incident was less likely now. “Having had these more frequent encounters, the PLA is better prepared and has become more confident in dealing with the Americans professionally and safely,” Song said.
“However, the US will not stop its so-called freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, because the PLA — which they paid little attention to 18 years ago — now poses a real threat to them.”
Snowden docs expose ‘emergency destruction’ flaws over 2001 US spy plane landing in China
The 117-page top secret report, completed three months after the incident, was included in the trove of NSA documents obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.
In 2003, journalists obtained a redacted version of the report in response to an FOI request, in which investigators found it was &ldquohighly probable&rdquo that China gained access to undestroyed classified material.
The full Top Secret Navy/NSA report on what China gained from capturing the US plane can be read here https://t.co/hO1VxPdrGThttps://t.co/O1ze1OzeOm&mdash Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) April 10, 2017
However, the Intercept&rsquos investigation into the uncensored report found new details about the incident in which classified information was leaked to China as a result of the pilot&rsquos decision to land within enemy lines instead of ditching into the sea.
The US Navy spy plane was flying a routine reconnaissance mission over the South China Sea when it collided mid-air with a People&rsquos Liberation Army fighter jet. The Chinese pilot died, and the damaged US jet, with 24 crew onboard, fell into an uncontrolled dive from about 22,000 feet, losing 4,000 feet per minute before its pilot eventually regained partial control at 10,000 feet.
From impact to landing, the crew had some 40 minutes to toss top secret documents out an aircraft hatch and destroy classified material before touching down at an airbase on China's Hainan Island.
However, the report highlights several procedural failings in destroying the classified material, including inadequate training for such a scenario and ineffective methods of destruction.
&ldquo[I]ndividual and crew training were deficient. Emergency destruction training &ndash when practiced &ndash lacked realism and context,&rdquo the report states.
The crew was detained on the island for 11 days as China and then-US President George Bush squabbled over who was at fault for the collision. Bush eventually apologized and China sent the jet back to the US in pieces.
Despite its criticisms over the undestroyed sensitive material, including cryptographic equipment, the report praised the pilot and flight crew for saving the lives of those on board.
&ldquoThrough superb airmanship and teamwork, 24 crew members and an $80 million aircraft were saved,&rdquo the report states, adding, &ldquoThe crew acquitted themselves well while detained. Conversely, sensitive COMINT equipment, large volumes of technical data, and SIGINT policy directives were compromised.&rdquo
The crew was also found to have failed to maintain a comprehensive inventory of the classified material on the plane. Instead, investigators had to rely on the recollections of crew members about what they had carried onto the plane.
While investigators deemed the level of government secrets exposed to the Chinese as &ldquomedium-to-low in severity,&rdquo the investigation was ultimately incomplete as it was impossible to determine what, and how much, sensitive material Chinese authorities may have accessed.
China protests alleged US spy plane incursion during drills
BEIJING -- China is protesting the alleged incursion of a U.S. Air Force U-2 spy plane into a no-fly zone imposed during live-fire military exercises in the country’s north.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, the Ministry of National Defense said the action had “seriously interfered in normal exercise activities” and “severely incurred the risk of misjudgment and even of bringing about an unintended air-sea incident.”
“This was a naked act of provocation,” the ministry said, quoting spokesperson Wu Qian. China has lodged a stern protest and demanded the U.S. cease such actions, Wu said.
The statement did not give details on the time and place of the drills, but the information matches exercises the Maritime Safety Administration said started Monday and would run through Sept. 30 over the Bohai Gulf east of Beijing.
Relations between the U.S. and China have sunk to their lowest in decades amid disputes over myriad issues including trade, technology, Taiwan and the South China Sea.
The high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance planes were flown over China, the former Soviet Union and other countries in the Communist bloc during the Cold War and upgraded versions continue to support U.S. missions.
China is also holding naval drills in the South China Sea, which it claims virtually in its entirety but over which five other governments also exercise claims. China objects to all U.S. military activity in and over the strategic waterway, especially “freedom of navigation operations” during which U.S. Navy ships sail near to Chinese-held islands.
Another naval exercise is planned from Thursday to Sunday in the East China Sea despite warnings issued over Typhoon Bavi, which is affecting the Korean Peninsula.
The defense ministry earlier this month said combat exercises were held in the Taiwan Strait and surrounding waters that were a “necessary move responding to the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait and were meant to safeguard national sovereignty."
China claims Taiwan is its territory and threatens to use military force to bring under its control the island that is a self-governing democracy and close U.S. ally. Washington and Taipei have increased military and governmental contacts in recent years and this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan, prompting a Chinese protest.
The eastern command of the People's Liberation Army will “stay on high alert and take all necessary measures to fight against provocations and protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity," the ministry quoted command spokesperson, Senior Col. Zhang Chunhui, as saying.