Haikou, China U.S. technicians arrived on the southern Chinese island of Hainan on Tuesday to figure out how to retrieve a damaged Navy spy plane stranded since colliding with a fighter jet.
The team from Lockheed Martin, the main builder of the EP-3E spy plane, will inspect the aircraft today, Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Terry Sutherland said.
The plane is believed to be held at the Lingshui air base on Hainan, where it made an emergency landing April 1 after the collision over the South China Sea.
The collision touched off a tense 11-day standoff between Beijing and Washington over the 24-member U.S. crew's return. The confrontation sent ties to their lowest point since the United States accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia two years ago.
On Tuesday, departing U.S. Ambassador Joseph Prueher said the sooner the plane is returned to the United States, the sooner relations can mend.
"The airplane is sort of a corrosive element right now in our relationship. It's a reminder of a hard spot, and we need to clean that up and get on with things," said Prueher, who played a key role in winning the U.S. crew's freedom.
Ending a 17-month tenure in Beijing, the ambassador spoke to reporters at Beijing's international airport before boarding a flight to the United States with his wife, Suzanne.
The U.S. team will have to figure out how to get the $80 million high-tech plane back to the United States whether it can be repaired and flown back or must be shipped back in pieces.
Accounts from both sides indicate the plane lost its nose cone and damaged at least one of its four propeller engines in the collision. The impact pushed the U.S. plane into an 8,000-foot dive before the pilot regained control.
The single-seat Chinese F-8 fighter apparently broke in half, killing the pilot.
Vice President Cheney said Sunday the plane cannot be flown now and will probably have to be taken out on a barge. The U.S. military will also consider using one of its mammoth C-5 or C-17 transport aircraft to carry the stricken plane out.