The huge Russian-made An-124, one of two aircraft which will be used to remove the crippled US EP-3 surveillance plane, landed on Hainan island after flying from Okinawa, Japan on June 16. Behind the cargo plane is US spy plane, EP3. (chinadaily.com.cn)
A cargo aircraft landed on China's Hainan Island on Saturday to bring home the damaged US spy plane which triggered a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
The huge Russian-made AN-124, one of two aircraft which will be used to remove the crippled U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane, landed on Hainan island after flying from Okinawa, Japan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Pacific Command said.
The U.S. spy plane made an emergency landing on Hainan after colliding with a Chinese fighter on April 1.
On board the cargo plane was a 12-person recovery team and equipment needed to dismantle the spy plane, which could take several weeks, the spokeswoman told Reuters from Hawaii.
``It will take weeks,'' she said.
China confirmed the cargo plane had landed at Hainan's Lingshui Airfield on Saturday morning.
``Work on dismantling the U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane has already started,'' Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said in a statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency.
The United States had originally intended to repair the plane and fly it out.
China, angry at U.S. spy flights off its coast and demanding they be halted, said allowing the plane to fly off Hainan would be a national humiliation.
DISMANTLING WILL TAKE WEEKS
But China announced earlier this month the long-simmering row over the crippled spy plan was basically over after the two sides agreed how it should be dismantled and shipped out.
The U.S. Pacific Command said it would take nearly three weeks starting from Sunday to dismantle the wing, tail, engines and fuselage of the spy plane and prepare it for shipping from Hainan's Lingshui Airfield.
The dismantled spy plane would be loaded onto two AN-124 aircraft -- each with a capacity of 120 tons -- from July 5 to July 11, it said in a statement on its Web site.
An advance team of U.S. officials arrived on Hainan earlier this week to start work on retrieving the spy plane, the State Department has said.
The U.S. Department of Defense had contracted Lockheed Martin Corp, which built the spy plane, to dismantle the aircraft and Russia's Polyot Air Cargo Ltd to fly it out.