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U.S. Spy Crewman: 'Mayhem!'

The pilot of the U.S. spy plane forced down in China said Saturday no apologies were needed to the Chinese, who treated the crew well during their 11-day captivity.

"I'm here to tell you we did right," said Lt. Shane Osborn, commander of the U.S. spy mission.

He said the Chinese were polite and respectful and fed them well but, he added, the crew suffered lack of sleep and unpleasant interrogations. The crew was questioned for four to five hours on the first night, Osborn said. Subsequently, there were wake up calls at all times.

Osborn spoke at a news conference before the crew headed for a five-hour flight to Washington state for welcoming celebrations at their home base.

The EP-3E was "straight, steady, holding altitude, heading away form Hainan island, on autopilot, when the accident occurred," Osborn said.

"The first thing I thought was, 'This guy just killed us,'" Osborne said, giving a vivid account of the moments after the collision with a Chinese jet-fighter, whose pilot China officially confirmed Saturday was killed.

"Mayhem!" said Nicholas Mellos, senior chief petty officer as he described the frantic minutes after impact. The plane fell 7,500 feet before Osborne was able to gain even minimal control, he said.

"Thank God for the training we do every day," Mellos said. "Without it, we'd be having a different press conference."

The heroics of pilot Osborn have endeared him to Americans across the country, reports CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell, but his actions did not surprise family and friends who say the Navy lieutenant is cool under fire in the cockpit and on the ground.

His mother says Shane Osborn wanted to be a pilot for as long as she can remember. He likes to go fast, she told the Norfolk Daily News last week.

The son of a Vietnam vet, Osborn grew up in Nebraska, graduated from high school in 1992, and was commissioned in the U.S. Navy in 1996 while attending the University of Nebraska.

While in high school, Osborn was a member of the football team for three years and earned All-Conference honors. And now the burly 26-year-old Navy pilot is being called a hero. He is credited with saving the lives of his crew, landing his crippled 65-ton airplane through sheer muscle. He has been honored a lot in the past few days, starting with the American flag given to him by the flight crew that brought Osborn and his team back from China.

But his mother says he wants nothing more than to get back to his post.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Friday used videotape of an earlier encounter between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese jet to demonstrate what he said were increasingly aggressive tactics being used over the South China Sea, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.

Navy EP-3E spy plane that collided with a Chinese jet April 1 and spent 11 days in Chinese custody continued debriefings and medical checkups on Hawaii Friday, as more details emerged abot the chaotic first moments of their detention on Hainan Island.

Senior U.S. diplomats speaking on condition they not be identified had already said that in debriefing sessions, crew members told of a terrifying midair plunge, tense moments on the ground and a delay in getting contact with U.S. diplomats.

Men Of Letters
Click here to read the letter from U.S. Ambassador Joseph W. Prueher to Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Tang that secured the crew's release.

Click here to read the letter Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wrote to the crew.

The American crew was detained until Wednesday, when a delicate diplomatic standoff was resolved by a U.S. letter saying America was "very sorry" for the pilot's death and the spy plane's landing on Chinese territory.

But the U.S. has denied wrongdoing. Rumsfeld Friday showed reporters the videotape of an earlier episode to bolster U.S. claims that the Chinese pilot's aggressive moves led to the crash.

The videotape shows the view from a U.S. spy plane of a Chinese jet hovering right alongside. On the tape, one pilot says "He's almost, probably 20 feet from our wingtip."

At one point in the video, the pilots claim to have been "thumped." Rumsfeld, himself a former pilot, says that refers to a jolt caused by the wake of the Chinese jet.

"It is clear that the pilot intended to harass the crew. It was not the first time," the secretary said. Officials say Rumsfeld showed the video both to bolster the U.S. version of the collision and to show Chinese civilian leaders that their own military might be lying to them.

According to the diplomats familiar with the crew's account, two Chinese F-8 fighter planes began trailing the plane. One approached the American aircraft three times, from the left and behind. The first two passes came within three to five feet of the left wing, the U.S. diplomats said.

On the third pass, the Chinese pilot apparently realized he was closing in too fast and tried to swing his plane to cut speed, the diplomats said, citing the account by the American crew.

Rumsfeld said that the Chinese fighter was "maneuvering aggressively" and struc the Navy spy plane. He hit the outer propeller on the left wing, the inner engine and then the U.S. aircraft's nose.

That contradicts the account given by Chinese officials, who claim the American plane swerved into the fighter jet.

Complete Coverage
Other developments Friday:
  • The mood is likely to be somber when U.S. and Chinese officials meet next week to discuss the collision. Of China's reported aspirations to have the U.S. stop its surveillance flights, Rumsfeld dismissed the idea, saying "Reconaissance flights have been going on for decades."
  • Questions of blame aside, the EP-3E spy plane itself was still on Hainan Island. U.S. officials have said their priority now is to retrieve the plane. "The aircraft … is United States property. It is worth an estimated $80 million," Rumsfeld said Friday.
  • The wife of a missing Chinese pilot had conciliatory words for the freed crew of a U.S. spy plane that collided with her husband's jet fighter, state media reported Friday.
  • Chinese hackers struck two U.S. Navy Web sites and others. One featured a billowing Chinese flag, angry messages and pictures of the lost Chinese pilot.
    (CBS, AP)
  • After the collision, the U.S. plane plummeted some 8,000 feet. On regaining control, the crew sent several distress calls on a frequency that planes and control towers are supposed to monitor. Diplomats said 15 to 25 messages were sent. Rumsfeld claimed 25-30 were transmitted.

    There was no response from the Chinese airfield. The Chinese claim the American plane landed illegally on their territory.

    Rumsfled said the plane had been punctured by debris, and it was so noisy the crew may not have heard whether the distress signals were acknowledged.

    The pilot reportedly considered the bail out option, but chose against it.

    "They were basically in, he called it a 'screaming dive,'" Robert Blocher said his son Steven, a crewman, told him. "And he said everybody in the airplane thought that was it."

    The U.S. crew members said after the emergency landing, they raced to destroy classified information for 15 minutes as heavily armed Chinese troops surrounded the crippled plane, shouting through megaphones and waving their arms to get the crew off.

    "They made it clear they wanted us off that aircraft," the senior diplomats quoted Osborn as saying. The diplomats said the Cinese troops appeared to be "trying to get them to stop their procedures."

    Rumsfeld said the soldiers' presence proves China heard the plane's "Mayday."


    Click here to learn more about the collision.

    "When they landed they were greeted with armed troops so I suspect that the people at the airfield knew they were coming," he said.

    The 21 men and three women were taken into custody without struggle when they left the aircraft, the diplomats said. The Americans were extensively questioned by the Chinese. The diplomats didn't give details of what the Chinese asked.

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