Hainan Island

Hainan Island incident

The Hainan Island incident was the April 1, 2001, collision between a United States Navy EP-3E signals reconnaissance aircraft and a People's Liberation Army Navy J-8II fighter jet that resulted in an international incident between the United States and China. The EP-3, assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1) had been operating about 70 miles (110 km) away from the Chinese island of Hainan, when the craft was intercepted by two J-8II fighters. A collision resulted between the wing of the EP-3 and one of the J-8s, which caused the death of the J-8's pilot, Wang Wei, while the EP-3 was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan.

The international status of the incident's location is a source of controversy; the Chinese insist it is part of their "airspace" but per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which China is a signatory, it is international waters and thus international airspace. The dispute is also mired in controversy of the EP-3's earlier overflight of various South China Sea islands which are claimed by China.

In the air

At about 09:15 local time, toward the end of the EP-3's six hour mission, two Chinese J-8s approached the EP-3, about 70 miles (110 km) away from the Chinese island of Hainan. One of the J-8s, Wang's fighter, collided with the surveillance aircraft after several intercept maneuvers. The J-8 was chopped in half, while the nosecone and a propeller of the EP-3 were severely damaged.

Wang ejected after the collision, but was never found and was declared dead and made a national hero. Meanwhile, the EP-3E made an emergency landing without authorization of the Chinese military at a military airfield in Hainan.

Cause of collision

The cause of the collision and the assignment of blame is a matter of dispute. The American government claimed that the Chinese jet, being piloted by Wang, bumped the wing of the larger, slower, and less maneuverable EP-3E. Onboard footage taken from previous missions revealed that American reconnaissance crews had been intercepted by Wang before. During one such incident, Wang is shown approaching so close that his email address could be clearly read from a sign that he had been holding up. The Chinese government has stated that it was the American plane that swerved into the flight path and rammed the J-8. This claim can not be verified since the Chinese government refuses to release data from the black boxes of either plane, both of which are in its possession.

On the ground

After landing, the U.S. aircraft crew proceeded to destroy sensitive equipment on board the aircraft such as listening devices, as per U.S. Navy protocol. After completing these procedures, they disembarked from the plane. Kept under guard, they were taken to a Chinese military barracks where they were interviewed.

Three United States diplomats were quickly sent to Hainan island to meet with the crew and assess their conditions, and to negotiate their release. Their first opportunity to meet with the crew came the day after the diplomats landed, and they met with them three more times after that.

The crew of 24 was detained until April 11, shortly after the U.S. issued the "letter of the two sorries" to the Chinese.

Letter of the two sorries

The "Letter of the two sorries" was the letter delivered by the United States Ambassador Joseph Prueher to Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan of the People's Republic of China to defuse the Hainan Island incident in April 2001. The delivery of the letter led to the release of the U.S. crew from Chinese custody, as well as the return of the disassembled plane.

The letter stated that the United States was "very sorry" for the death of Chinese pilot Wang Wei, and quoting from the genuine "Two sorries", "We are very sorry the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance ..." .

The only official version of the letter was written in English, and a translation into Chinese was not provided by the U.S. government. However, the Chinese government provided a translation of the letter in Chinese in which they translated the word "sorry" in such a way as to imply an admission of responsibility.


The crew returned to the United States via Hawaii after their release on April 11. The plane, however, was not released until July 3 when the last piece arrived in the United States. China had refused to permit repair of the EP-3 to allow it to leave under its own power and the plane had to be dismantled . The EP-3 was eventually reassembled, and returned to duty.The Chinese military did board the plane, but it is not known if they retrieved any sensitive information, or how effective the crew's destruction of the onboard technology was. The EP-3's pilot, Shane Osborn, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism and extraordinary achievement in flight while the J-8 pilot was hailed as a hero in China. The Chinese media maintains that the plane was in territorial waters at the time of the incident, and that the collision may have been intentional while the U.S. government contends that under the UN definition, (of which China is a signatory), the aircraft was in international airspace and that the collision was caused by the Chinese pilot.

In addition to paying for the dismantling and shipping of the EP-3, the United States paid for the 11 days' food and lodging supplied by the Chinese government to the plane's crew, in the amount of $34,000.


The crewmembers:


  • Ensign Richard Bensing of Brandon, Fla.
  • Aviation Electrician's Mate 3rd Class Steven Blocher of Charlotte, N.C.
  • Cryptologic Technician Seaman Bradford Borland, whose home of record was not listed.
  • Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class David Cecka of Leavenworth, Wash.
  • Lt. (j.g.) John Comerford of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.
  • Cryptologic Technician Operator 1st Class Shawn Coursen of Valdosta, Ga.
  • Cryptologic Technician Collection Seaman Jeremy Crandall of Poplar Grove, Ill.
  • Cryptologic Technician Interpretive 1st Class Josef Edmunds of Davis, Calif.
  • Cryptologic Technician Interpretive 2nd Class Brandon Funk of Showlow, Ariz.
  • Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Scott Guidry of Satellite Beach, Fla.
  • Cryptologic Technician 2nd Class Jason Hanser of Billings, Mont.
  • Lt. Patrick Honeck of La Mesa, Calif.
  • Lt. (j.g.) Regina Kauffman of Warminster, Pa.
  • Aviation Machinist's Mate Senior Chief Nicholas Mellos of Ypsilanti, Mich.
  • Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Ramon Mercado of Moreno Valley, Calif.
  • Lt. Shane Osborn of Norfolk, Neb.
  • Lt. (j.g.) Richard Payne, whose home of record was not listed.
  • Cryptologic Technician 2nd Class Kenneth Richter of Staten Island, N.Y.
  • Lt. Marcia Sonon of Lenharstville, Pa.
  • Lt. (j.g.) Jeffery Vignery of Goodland, Kan.
  • Aviation Machinist 2nd Class Wendy Westbrook of Rock Creek, Ohio
  • Cryptologic Technician 3rd Class Rodney Young of Katy, Texas


  • Sgt. Richard Pray of Geneseo, Ill.


  • Senior Airman Curtis Towne of Haywood, Calif.

Further reading

See also

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