None of the 24 crew members aboard the U.S. plane was injured, a U.S. Navy spokesman said.
The Chinese statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said a U.S. Navy EP-3 military surveillance plane approached China's airspace southeast of China's island province of Hainan, which is southeast of Hong Kong. Two Chinese military jets scrambled to track it, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao. The U.S. plane suddenly turned toward the Chinese jets, Zhu said, resulting in its bumping into and damaging one of the two Chinese jets, said Zhu.
Chinese officials said the jet crashed into the ocean and that they were searching for wreckage or a survivor.
A U.S. Navy spokesman in Hawaii said it apparently was an accident: "We know our plane was in international waters.'' The spokesman said the Navy had had contact with the crew as the plane landed, but haven't heard from anyone since the plane touched down.
The EP-3 is a classified surveillance plane with technology far in advance of what China now uses, sources told UPI.
A Pacific Command spokesman in Hawaii said the airplane should be treated as sovereign U.S. territory. "We expect that their government will respect the integrity of the aircraft and well-being and safety of the crew in accordance with international practices, and that they'll expedite any necessary repairs to the aircraft and that they'll facilitate the immediate return of the aircraft and crew," said Lt. Col. Dewey Ford, a Navy spokesman at Fort Smith in Hawaii.
The U.S. Navy claims the Navy plane was on a routine surveillance mission in international airspace when it was intercepted by two Chinese fighter jets, bumped by one of them, and forced to land in southern China. After initial speculation that the midair bump was intentional, U.S. officials now say they believe the collision was an accident.
The EP-3, a four-engine propeller plane laden with radar and listening equipment, was badly damaged, the Navy said. The pilot called a Mayday and landed at a military airport in Lingshui on Hainan Island, located in southern China, officials said. The plane is based at Kaneda Air Base in Okinawa.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said diplomats from a U.S. mission were on their way to Hainan Island.
Relations between China and the U.S. have cooled lately. President George W. Bush's administration considers China a strategic adversary, not a strategic partner, and is discussing selling advanced warships to Taiwan that also could be used to shoot down Chinese ballistic missiles.
In 1968, North Korean naval attack ships seized the spy ship Pueblo off the coast of North Korea and held the sailors for several months.
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