PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) The 24 crew members of the U.S. spy plane touched down in Hawaii at dawn yesterday on the second leg of their journey home from China and got a flag-waving welcome from a cheering crowd and a brass band playing “God Bless America.”
“We”re definitely glad to be back,” said Lt. Shane Osborn, the mission commander.
The weary crew members, who arrived aboard a military transport after a stop in Guam, face two days of debriefings with Pentagon investigators in Hawaii before being reunited with their families over the Easter weekend.
They left their damaged spy plane behind in China, which has refused to release the aircraft since its collision with a Chinese fighter jet April 1.
In Washington, President Bush held the crew blameless and told the nation they “did their duty with honor and with great professionalism.”
“I know I speak for all Americans when I say welcome home to our flight crew,” he said, adding that U.S. officials are eager to learn “exactly how the accident happened.”
The crew awoke yesterday to their 11th day of captivity on the Chinese island of Hainan. Sixteen hours later, after crossing the International Dateline and stopping in Guam, a U.S. territory, their transport touched down at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. It was still yesterday.
Onlookers cheered as the uniformed crew members stepped down from the mammoth, windowless C-17 to salute and shake hands with a line of admirals, generals and Hawaii”s U.S. senators and representatives.