Cowboy Blob's Saloon and Shootin Gallery

I'm not a real Cowboy, but I play one in the movies.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Hainan EP-3 Incident

On April 1, 2001 (China time), a US Navy EP-3E Aries II was performing surveillance operations in international airspace over the South China Sea when it was intercepted by two PRC J-8 fighter aircraft. One of the interceptor pilots (there is evidence that this guy had flown like a hot dog on previous intercepts) made close passes at the plane to rattle the crew. On his final pass (on Earth, ever) his vertical stabilizer (tail) struck the left outboard propeller...his plane broke up and fell into the sea. Parts of his jet sheared off the EP-3's nosecone, which did damage to the right outboard engine and much of the aircraft's instrumentation. The plane inverted and went out of control, saved only by the airmanship of the pilot, Lt. Shane Osborn.

Bringing the plane back under control, Lt. Osborn decided that ditching or bailing out at sea was certain to result in loss of life, so he steered toward Hainan to attempt an emergency landing. Osborn and his crew (22 sailors, one Marine, and one USAF member) became "guests" of the PRC for 11 days until a diplomatic agreement could be reached. The crew was well-treated and not interrogated, but were interviewed.

For the story of their retrieval, read here.

Most of these Silent Warrior stories were already part of service lore before I enlisted; this one I was able to watch unfold from the very best vantage point, an intelligence squadron. Many of us were at least two degrees of separation from members of the crew. As for me, my Number One E-6 (soon to be E-7) had been a student of mine at tech school; he had returned to be an instructor himself and had one of the crewmen in his class. We were all happy with the outcome, and extremely grateful it wasn't the North Koreans involved instead of the Chinese.

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