Archive for Friday, April 6, 2001

Goodland father talks about son in China

Detained pilot’s father supports Bush’s course

April 6, 2001

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— The father of a Navy pilot being detained by the Chinese government says the question of an apology is a delicate issue best left for U.S. officials.

"I'll leave that up to them," said Ron Vignery, an attorney and father of Navy pilot Jeff Vignery. "For a parent to answer ... I'll leave that one alone, because I understand the significance of an apology in international affairs."

Lt. j.g. Jeff Vignery is a 1997 graduate of Kansas University, where he participated in the Navy ROTC program. He was one of three pilots on the plane.

Ron Vignery, who served as a U.S. Navy lawyer for four years in the 1970s, said he agreed with President Bush's approach to the situation.

"My impression was his words were measured and had been carefully thought out," Ron Vignery said.

The Chinese government has been detaining 24 crew members of an EP-3E surveillance plane that landed on Hainan Island after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet.

Ron Vignery has avoided speculating about when his son and the rest of the crew might be released.

"It would just lead to disappointment if it wasn't met," Ron Vignery said Wednesday before leaving Goodland with his wife, Judy, to get out of town for a couple of days. "To set a deadline is to set yourself up for disappointment."

Ron Vignery said he learned that his son was being held by the Chinese in a phone call from his son's wife.

"Within hours of the incident, we knew he was OK," Ron Vignery said, "but in China."

That was the beginning of an emotional roller-coaster ride.

"At the peak, we knew he was alive; then our thoughts turned to the Chinese," he said.

Ron Vignery said his son, 27, rotated flying the plane with the other two pilots. He did not know whether his son was at the controls when the collision with the Chinese fighter jet occurred.

After it was confirmed Sunday the Goodland native was one of the crew members, television crews and news organizations swarmed to Goodland, with some camped across the street from the Vignerys' home.

Ron Vignery said the family at first locked the doors and pulled down the shades, but Tuesday "gave into the press and talked to people." National and international news services played interviews with the family Tuesday night and again Wednesday.

Many reporters have talked to Jeff Vignery's teachers at Goodland High School, where he graduated in 1992 before attending Kansas University and joining the Navy ROTC program.

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