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EP-3 Collision, Crew Detainment, Release, and Homecoming

Collection Number: AR/695

Deployment Dates: 2-20 July 2001


EP-3 Crew following release from detention
Caption: EP-3 crewmembers celebrate their release from detention onboard their flight from China to Guam on 12 April 2001.
Catalog #: From Navy Archives Collection AR/695

History

On 1 April 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3 signals intelligence aircraft collided in mid-air with a Chinese Navy J-8II interceptor fighter jet. The collision occurred over the South China Sea approximately 70 miles from the Chinese island province of Hainan. Aboard the EP-3 were 24 crewmembers from two separate commands - Naval Security Group Activity (NSGA) Misawa and Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1). The EP-3 crew was five hours into a signals intelligence mission, which involved overflights of the South China Sea, when they were intercepted by two Chinese Navy J-8 fighter jets. While making a series of aggressive close passes of the EP-3, one of the J-8 fighter jets collided with the aircraft. The collision resulted in the death of the Chinese Navy pilot, Wang Wei. The EP-3 suffered significant damage. Initially, the crew of the EP-3 lost control of the aircraft. After several minutes, the flight crew was able to stabilize the aircraft through emergency controls. After considering the options, one of the pilots made the decision to make an unauthorized emergency landing at Lingshui airfield on the Chinese island of Hainan.

After landing on Hainan, all 24 members of the crew of the EP-3 were detained by the Chinese government. The Chinese government also took possession of the EP-3. Many of the crewmembers were interrogated regularly during their detainment, although none revealed any information. While they had possession of the EP-3, the Chinese stripped it of the classified intelligence and equipment that was onboard. Although the crewmembers began emergency destruction efforts to destroy all of the classified intelligence and equipment that had been onboard the aircraft as soon as LT Osborn made the call to land on Hainan, the Chinese were still able to gather a large amount of material from the aircraft.

Diplomatic efforts to negotiate the release of the crew and the aircraft took 11 days. While the release of the crew was unconditional, the Chinese government would only return the aircraft if it was disassembled first. On 12 April 2001, the EP-3 crew departed China on a plane bound for Guam. Their eventual destination was Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, the home base of VQ-1. After debriefings occurred in Hawaii, the crew returned to NAS Whidbey Island. On 14 April 2001, NAS Whidbey Island hosted a large homecoming ceremony at which the crew’s return was celebrated. The repatriation and homecoming of the crew became known as Operation VALIANT RETURN. The EP-3 aircraft was dismantled on Hainan by technicians from Lockheed Martin and returned in pieces via cargo plane to an air base in Georgia. After the aircraft’s parts arrived in Georgia in July 2001, the aircraft was reassembled and repaired. The aircraft was then returned to service.

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Collection Overview

This collection contains oral histories, historical materials, and photographs related to the 2001 EP-3 collision and the aftermath. The oral history files contain interview audio and abstracts, as well as photos of the interviewees. Historical materials include public affairs materials from Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island. The photographs document the crew during their return flights home, as well as the NAS Whidbey Island homecoming celebrations. The oral histories, historical materials, and photographs were collected by DET 206 reservists. The collection also contains deployment documentation created by the DET 206 reservists before and after their deployment. The deployment documentation includes a well-written narrative of the collision and the aftermath, as well as a summary of the primary themes and issues that were addressed during the interviews.

On 20 May 2001, DET 206 reservists were able to conduct a group interview with 5 of the EP-3 crewmembers at the Naval Historical Center (NHC). 2 of the 5 crewmembers who participated in the interview were assigned to NSGA Misawa. The other 3 were assigned to VQ-1. The same day, DET 206 reservists also conducted a joint interview with aircraft commander LT Shane Osborn and Flight Engineer ADCS(AW) Nick Mellos.

In July 2001, a team of DET 206 reservists deployed to NAS Whidbey Island. While at NAS Whidbey Island, the DET 206 reservists conducted 22 additional oral history interviews. The reservists interviewed 9 other members of VQ-1 that were part of the EP-3 crew. The reservists also interviewed VQ-1 personnel who were stationed at NAS Whidbey Island at the time of the collision, NAS Whidbey Island military and civilian personnel, and the spouses of 2 of the EP-3 pilots.

The primary issues and themes the reservists attempted to address in the oral history interviews include the decision to land in China, the importance of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, & Escape (SERE) training, and emergency destruction procedures and protocol onboard the EP-3.

Oral Histories

Digital audio and abstracts are available for each of these oral histories.

Bensing, Richard ENS; Cecka, David AT2; Comerford, John LTJG; Payne, Richard LTJG; & Richter, Kenneth CT2
ENS Bensing – Direct Support Specialty Evaluator, Naval Security Group Misawa; AT2 Cecka – Aircrew, VQ-1; Comerford – Senior Evaluator, VQ-1; LTJG Payne – Tactical Evaluator, VQ-1; CT2 Richter – Science and Technical Operator, Naval Security Group Misawa
Date of Interview: 20 May 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) Carol O’Hagan, CAPT Terrance McGinnis, & YNCS(AW) Kathleen Wright, USNR, Navy Combat Documentation Detachment 206
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Chinese F-8 aircraft; Chinese Pilots; Mission Specifics; Collision Specifics; Emergency Destruction of Classified Material and Equipment; Detainment; (interview ends before they are able to discuss anything else)

Blocher, Steven AE2
Aviation Electrician, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 13 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CDR Joseph Reynolds, USNR, Navy Combat Documentation Detachment 206
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); Electronic Warfare Operator (EWOP); Chinese F8 aircraft; Chinese Pilots; Mission Specifics; Collision Specifics; Emergency Destruction of Classified Material and Equipment; Detainment; Detention; Chain of Command; Interrogations; SERE; Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

Borland, Bradford CTSN
Enlisted Air Crewman, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 11 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CDR Reynolds & YNCS(AW) Wright
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); Chinese F8 aircraft; Background; Mission Specifics; Collision Specifics; Detainment; Detention; Chain of Command; Interrogations; SERE; Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

Comerford, John LT
Senior Evaluator, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 12 July 2001 – Continuation of 20 May Group Interview
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & CDR Reynolds
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; Emergency Destruction; Detainment; Detention; SERE; Interrogations; Chain of Command; Diplomatic Negotiations; Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

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Guidry, Scott AT2
Electronic Warfare Operator, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 5 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & YNCS(AW) Wright
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); Electronic Warfare Operator (EWOP); Chinese F8 aircraft; Chinese Pilots; Mission Specifics; Collision Specifics; Emergency Destruction of Classified Material and Equipment; Detainment; Detention; Chain of Command; Diplomatic Negotiations; Release; Homecoming

Honeck, Kimmie
Wife of LT Patrick Honeck
Date of Interview: 13 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CDR Reynolds
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Deployment; Family Dynamics; Children; Military Spouses; Informal Support Groups; News of Collision and Detainment; Communications; Media Attention; Navy Support; Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA); Private Trauma; Chaplains; Release; Homecoming

Honeck, Patrick LT
Pilot, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 12 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & CDR Reynolds
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); Chinese F8 aircraft; Background; Chinese Pilots; Mission Specifics; Collision Specifics; Detainment; Detention; Chain of Command; Interrogations; SERE; Diplomatic Negotiations; Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

Juatai, Joaquin JO2 & Popp, Tony
Public Affairs Office and Communications Relations, NAS Whidbey Island
Date of Interview: 3 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & YNCS(AW) Wright
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Public Affairs; Information Flow; Media Coordination; Media Coverage; Release; Homecoming

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Kauffman, Regina LTJG
Navigator, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 3 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & YNCS(AW) Wright
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); Chinese F8 aircraft; Background; Chinese Pilots; Mission Specifics; Collision Specifics; Emergency Action Plan; Detainment; Detention; Chain of Command; Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

Lessard, Bernard CDR
Commanding Officer, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 11 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan, CDR Reynolds, & YNCS(AW) Wright
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Collision; International Relations; Crew Safety; Family Support; Crew Spouses; Briefings; Public Affairs; Diplomatic Relations; Repatriation; CTF-72; CAPT Sean O’Brien; Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA); Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

Lindscott, Tom & Wetzel, Emily
Director & Assistant Director, Morale, Warfare, and Recreation (MWR), NAS Whidbey Island
Date of Interview: 10 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & CDR Reynolds
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Typical Duties; Deployment Resources; Family Services; Support; Homecoming; Community; Planning

Marriott, William CAPT
Commanding Officer, Patrol Wing TEN (PATRON 10)
Date of Interview: 9 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & CDR Reynolds
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Duties; Collision; Family Support; Information; CTF-72; CAPT Sean O’Brien; Chain of Command; Public Affairs; Press Conference; Media; Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

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Martin, Kimberly A.
Public Affairs Officer, NAS Whidbey Island
Date of Interview: 9 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & CDR Reynolds
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Background and Training; Public Affairs; Information Flow; Media Coordination; Media Coverage; Release; Homecoming

McKee, Patty
Information Resource Management (IRM) Deputy Director and Communication Officer, NAS Whidbey Island
Date of Interview: 3 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & YNCS(AW) Wright
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Telecommunications; Voice and Data Communications; Public Affairs; Media Coordination

Mercado, Ramon AT2
In-Flight Technician, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 3 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & YNCS(AW) Wright
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); Chinese F8 aircraft; Mission Specifics; Collision Specifics; Detainment; Detention; Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

Osborn, Shane LT & Mellos, Nicholas ADCS
Mission Commander & Senior Chief, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 20 May 2001
Interviewer(s): CDR Reynolds & CDR Byron King, USNR, Navy Combat Documentation Detachment 206
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); Chinese F8 aircraft; Background; Chinese Pilots; Mission Specifics; Collision Specifics; Detainment; Detention; Chain of Command; Interrogations; SERE; Diplomatic Negotiations; Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

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Pierzchala, Tabitha LT
Assistant Public Works Officer, NAS Whidbey Island
Date of Interview: 9 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & YNCS(AW) Wright
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Homecoming; Base Preparations; Special Event; Security; Transportation

Salter, Larry CAPT
Commanding Officer, NAS Whidbey Island
Date of Interview: 11 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan, CDR Reynolds, & YNCS(AW) Wright
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Duties; Collision; Family Support; Media Coverage; Information Flow; Public Affairs; Public Relations; Media Management; Chain of Command; Release; Homecoming; Public Response; Lessons Learned

Thomason, David W. MACS(SW)
Chief of Police, NAS Whidbey Island
Date of Interview: 6 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & YNCS(AW) Wright
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Duties; Collision; Media Coverage; Base Security; Media Management; Chain of Command; Release; Homecoming; Public Response; Lessons Learned

Vignery, Jeffrey LTJG
Pilot, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 10 July and 13 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & CDR Reynolds
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); Chinese F8 aircraft; Background; Chinese Pilots; Mission Specifics; Collision Specifics; Detainment; Detention; Interrogations; Diplomatic Negotiations; Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

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Vignery, Julie
Wife of LTJG Jeffrey Vignery
Date of Interview: 12 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan & CDR Reynolds
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Deployment; Family Dynamics; Children; Military Spouses; Informal Support Groups; Ombudsmen; News of Collision and Detainment; Communications; Media Attention; Navy Support; Private Trauma; Release; Homecoming

Wallsteadt, Dave PRCM
Command Master Chief, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 11 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CAPT(s) O’Hagan, CDR Reynolds, & YNCS(AW) Wright
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); NAS Whidbey Island; Background; Duties; Collision; International Relations; Crew Safety; Family Support; Crew Spouses; Briefings; Public Affairs; Diplomatic Relations; Repatriation; Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

Walter, Chip CDR & Seliga, Ken CDR
Commanding Officer & Executive Officer, Patrol Squadron ONE (VP-1)
Date of Interview: 16 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CDR Reynolds
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); Japan; Misawa; Kadena; Collision; International Relations; Information; CTF-72; CAPT Sean O’Brien; Aircraft Repair; Mechanics; Aircraft Maintenance; Media Coverage; Crew Repatriation; Guam; United States Air Force

Westbrook, Wendy AD2
Flight Engineer, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1)
Date of Interview: 17 July 2001
Interviewer(s): CDR Reynolds
Subject Terms/Key Words: China; EP-3E; Fleet Reconnaissance Squadron ONE (VQ-1); Chinese F8 aircraft; Background; Duties; Chinese Pilots; Mission Specifics; Collision Specifics; Detainment; Detention; Interrogations; Diplomatic Negotiations; Release; Homecoming; Lessons Learned

Published: Tue Apr 27 14:39:55 EDT 2021