A military plane will next take the 24 crew members to Hawaii on the second leg of their trip before heading to the U.S. mainland.
A small group of officers welcomed the crew members with applause before escorting them to buses that took them to an undisclosed location in Guam.
During their five-hour stopover in Guam the crew members will shower, change clothes, have a meal and call their families. All will then board a C-17 military jet and proceed to Hawaii, where they will undergo three more days of debriefings and medical exams.
The debriefing includes medical and psychological evaluations, a review of the operation and mishap and subsequent detention and to help them "decompress" after their captivity.
President Bush had confirmed their impending release in a brief statement Wednesday morning to the press.
"This has been a difficult situation for both our countries," he said. "I know the American people join me in expressing sorrow for the loss of life of a Chinese pilot. Our prayers are with his wife and his child."
Bush did not take questions from reporters.
It is about a seven-hour flight from Guam to Hawaii.
The Navy is not flying families out to Hawaii and is not encouraging them to go there on their own, a defense official said. However, if families do arrive the crew members will be allowed to join them, the official said.
Earlier, a Chinese spokesman on Hainan said, "As the U.S. side has already said 'very sorry' to the Chinese people, the Chinese government, out of humanitarian considerations, decided to allow the 24 people on the U.S. spy plane to leave China after completing the necessary procedures."
U.S. officials insisted privately, however, that no apology was made for the collision because that would imply responsibility. They said the right Chinese expression was found to express regret for the loss of the Chinese pilot, and for making a forced landing at the Hainan air force base without having proper authorization from the Chinese authorities.
Ambassador Joseph Prueher met with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan in Beijing Wednesday and handed him a letter with the proposed wording from the administration. It was the fifth version of what the United States was prepared to say in response to Chinese insistence on apologizing - for being hit by the Chinese fighter jet.
"Both President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have expressed their sincere regret over your missing pilot and aircraft," the letter said. "Please convey to the Chinese people and to the family of pilot Wang Wei that we are very sorry for their loss."
The United States also said it was "very sorry" for the "entering of China's airspace and the landing," which "did not have verbal clearance."
Chinese television quoted Tang as saying the crew would be free to go after completing what the TV announcer said were all the "formalities."
"The U.S. side must take full responsibility for the incident, provide convincing explanations to the Chinese people, stop its reconnaissance activities above the Chinese coast and take measures to stop the recurrence of such incidents," Tang told Prueher, according to the official Xinhua news agency Wednesday.
Xinhua said Tang "also pointed out that this is not the conclusion of the case involving the U.S. military plane ramming into a Chinese aircraft, causing the missing of the Chinese pilot, entering the Chinese airspace and landing at a Chinese airfield without permission. The two sides will continue with the negotiations on the matter and other related issues."
"The Chinese side attaches importance to China-U.S. relations," Xinhua said. "To develop friendly relations and cooperation between China and the United States serves the interests of both countries and the world at large."
What wasn't in the U.S. letter was any reference to U.S. responsibility for the accident. This issue will be taken up at a meeting April 18 of a U.S.-Chinese commission that will investigate the accident further.
There was no word from Beijing or Washington on why the Chinese did not apologize to America for hitting the U.S. plane and holding the 24 hostages.
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