HONOLULU – Military officials were briefed Saturday by a team of U.S. technicians who inspected a downed U.S. Navy spy plane in China, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command said.
U.S. Pacific Command representatives and U.S. Pacific Fleet aviation experts heard from the team of inspectors from plane-maker Lockheed Martin Corp. about the physical condition of the Ep-3E Aries II, said Army Lt. Col. Stephen Barger.
The briefing was to continue Sunday with discussion of the best way to return the plane to the United States, Barger said.
A recommendation will be prepared and submitted to Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, who will forward it to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Barger said.
Saturday's briefing began immediately after the technicians arrived from China's Hainan island, where the $80 million plane landed after being damaged in a collision with a Chinese fighter jet.
U.S. officials say the technicians concluded the plane could be repaired and safely flown off the island. Rumsfeld wants the plane flown out, but Chinese authorities have reportedly ruled out that idea.
The four-engine turboprop plane could also be dismantled and transported by barge or aircraft.
China accused the U.S. plane of ramming the F-8 fighter on April 1, causing the death of the pilot, and held the plane's 24-member crew for 11 days. The diplomatic showdown ended with a letter from President Bush saying the United States was "very sorry" for a Chinese pilot's death and for the U.S. plane's landing without permission.
China has demanded an end to U.S. reconnaissance flights along its territory and compensation for the incident.
U.S. officials say the Chinese pilot caused the collision by flying recklessly. The Pentagon insists such surveillance flights are legal and will be resumed.
Two engines and one of four propellers were damaged on the plane. Its nose cone is missing and pieces of metal punctured parts of the fuselage.
U.S. officials say the crew managed to destroy much of the sensitive information and electronic eavesdropping equipment used to collect intelligence on China's military, but that China probably gained some valuable insight.