News Releases

Senator Patty Murray Honors Whidbey Island Crew

May 02 2001

Murray introduces Senate resolution applauding crew's bravery and dedication

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced a resolution honoring the 24 Whidbey Island crewmembers detained on Hainan Island after their plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet on April 1. The resolution recognizes the courage, professionalism and dedication of the crew based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Senator Murray attended the homecoming ceremony in Oak Harbor on April 14 where she met and welcomed the crewmembers back to Washington state.

Senator Murray's statement on the Whidbey 24 resolution follows.

Mr. President, I come to the floor today to introduce a resolution honoring the Whidbey 24, the brave crewmembers of an EP-3 aircraft stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in my home state of Washington.

On April 1, 2001, a United States EP-3 surveillance aircraft on routine patrol in international airspace over the South China Sea collided with a Chinese fighter jet. The plane carried a crew of 22 Navy personnel, one Air Force officer, and one Marine. Following the accident, the U.S. aircraft and crew plunged as much as 8,000 feet before the crew regained control of the severely damaged aircraft. Navy Lieutenant Shane Osborne, the pilot, and his entire crew displayed extraordinary skill and courage as the aircraft made an emergency landing at the Chinese military airfield on Hainan Island.

The 24 crew members were detained on Hainan Island in the People's Republic of China for 11 days as the United States and China negotiated a diplomatic resolution to the aircraft collision and the emergency landing.

When I first heard that an American plane was forced to make an emergency landing in China, like all Americans, I was very concerned. Then I learned that the crew was based on Whidbey Island, and I realized that these men and women were my neighbors – the people I see at the grocery store.

The City of Oak Harbor, which is home to the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, was immensely supportive of the airmen and their families during this incident. The community commenced a "Bring Back VQ-1" campaign to show their support and deep appreciation for the crewmembers and their families.

Residents of the city wrapped trees and light poles with yellow ribbons. My Washington D.C. office distributed yellow ribbons to visitors and other Senate offices in an effort to demonstrate our support in the halls of Congress.

On April 14, 2001, the crew returned safely to Washington state to an emotional "Welcome Home VQ-1" celebration at the Ault Field Hangar at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

These brave men and women displayed uncommon courage, professionalism, and selfless dedication to duty in the service of our country, from the time of the collision and throughout their 11-day detention. While my resolution seeks to recognize the Whidbey 24, it is equally important to note that thousands of Americans serve just as honorably in service to our country each and every day.

I am so proud of the Whidbey Island community for the way it handled this incident with great compassion for the families and NAS Whidbey personnel. But we also know that all across America, military families and the American people were standing behind our military personnel. The Whidbey Island community stood tall, proud and patriotic on behalf of the families and the country.

I ask the Senate to join me in recognizing the bravery and determination of the Whidbey 24 throughout a delicate and dangerous ordeal. On behalf of all Americans, I proudly honor them and once again welcome them home.