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(WASHINGTON, DC) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today sent a letter to China's Ambassador to the United States urging the immediate release of the 24 crew members of the U.S. Navy plane that landed in China this weekend. The letter comes in advance of a previously scheduled meeting between Murray and the Ambassador on Wednesday. Senator Murray is also scheduled to visit China with a group of her colleagues during the upcoming Congressional recess.

The crew is based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, 60 miles NW of Seattle.

In her letter to Ambassador Yang, Senator Murray expressed concern for the welfare of the Whidbey Island crew. "This is a matter of immense importance to Washington state, and particularly to the families of the U.S. personnel now in China," Murray said.

"I encourage the People's Republic of China to abide by international practices and procedures afforded aircraft landing under emergency circumstances. It is imperative that U.S. officials be granted immediate access to the crew and aircraft to ensure all military personnel are safe and the equipment is secure," said Murray.

Senator Murray also spoke today with Commander Bernard Lessard from the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Through Commander Lessard, Murray expressed her concern to the families and offered whatever assistance she could provide.

"I want the families to know that all of Washington is concerned about their loved ones. We will work to bring their family members home as soon as possible."

The text of Sen. Murray's letter follows:

April 2, 2001

The Honorable Yang Jiechi
Ambassador
People's Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008


Dear Ambassador Yang:

In anticipation of our meeting later this week, I write to express my concern for the welfare of the 24 crewmembers of the U.S. EP-3 aircraft that made an emergency landing on Hainan Island.

Virtually all of the U.S. personnel now in Chinese custody are based in Washington state. The crewmembers are part of the VQ-1 Squadron from the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. I request your immediate assistance to secure the prompt and safe return of the crew. This is a matter of immense importance to Washington state, and particularly to the families of the U.S. personnel now in China.

It is my understanding that U.S. officials have not been given access to the crew members in a timely fashion as required by International practice and law. I encourage the People's Republic of China to abide by international practices and procedures afforded aircraft landing under emergency circumstances. It is imperative that United States embassy officials be granted immediate access to the crew and aircraft to ensure all U.S. personnel are safe and the equipment is secure.

I look forward to meeting with you later this week. I want to work with you to resolve this matter in a constructive fashion. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Patty Murray
United States Senator