The release of the American spy plane crew went off "without incident," and the members were being questioned immediately about the collision that lead to their detention and the 12-day standoff with China, the Pentagon said Wednesday night.

"I am very pleased to report to you that the 24 men and women of our air crew have started their journey home," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley told briefing about an hour after the crew left China's Hainan island.

Quigley said a 13-member debriefing team of psychologists, medical doctors, intelligence officers and other specialists was on the charter that retrieved the crew.

"What we're looking for is, before the details of the collision start to fade ... with time we want to see if we can capture their memories while they are still fresh and get their understanding, in their own perceptions, in their own words of the details surrounding the accident," Quigley said.

He said he didn't know how long that would take said officials were hoping the crew members could be reunited with their families by Sunday. The crew was being flown to Guam early Thursday before continuing to Hawaii.

Quigley said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had not yet spoken with the crew but had watched their departure on television.

Asked if military officials had any concerns during the day Wednesday that the deal to release the crew might fall through, Quigley said: "I don't know if anybody was considering this a done deal until people were watching that aircraft lift off from Hainan island."

"That was a great feeling," he said, adding that "anything could have gone wrong" with the plane mechanically, with the weather and so on.