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CNN BURDEN OF PROOF

Pentagon Offer Its Version of Plane Incident, Semantics of Standoff Grow Increasingly Important

Aired April 10, 2001 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROGER COSSACK, HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, the Pentagon offers its version of what happened in the skies over the South China Sea.

Plus, as diplomatic tensions increase between the U.S. and China, a troubling question surfaces: When is someone in captivity considered a hostage?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TIM HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: They're certainly on the road to being hostages, but I think that we need to avoid inflammatory language, and I think the president deserves great credit for keeping the tone in such a way that the hope of getting their release soon is still there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: They're being used as pawns. They're being used improperly, inappropriately. They're being detained, and I wouldn't use the term hostage yet, but I think Chinese have to realize that term if it's applied at all will even do more severe damage than has already been done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: This is a tough situation now, and the American people and I, as a senator, we don't like our people being detained, held basically as hostages over there right now. It's inexplicable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. China continues its demands for an apology from the United States as U.S. diplomats again meet with an American crew being held by the Chinese. This is day 10 in the standoff over a collision between a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese fighter jet. The pilot of that jet is missing, and the feud over Washington's response has provoked an escalating international dispute.

This morning, a senior Pentagon official said the collision occurred on the third pass made by the Chinese pilot. The official says the pilot flew toward the U.S. plane at a 45-degree angle in the first two passes, coming as three to five feet, and that the collision caused extensive damage to the American plane.

Now, CNN has obtained a satellite photo of the plane, still on the tarmac where it landed a week and a half ago. Lined up next to it, seven trucks; evidence, some say, that the Chinese are removing sensitive equipment from the surveillance plane.

Joining us today from Ann Arbor, Michigan is Ken Lieberthal, former senior director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. Here in Washington: Jennifer Pizarro (ph); international trade attorney Judith Lee, and retired Air Force Lieutenant General Larry Farrell. In the back, Erica Gresham (ph) and Marjorie Quinteros (ph).

General Farrell, I want to start with you. The American plane is capable of flying at what speed, and most likely was it flying at when this accident started?

LT. GEN. LARRY FARRELL, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): It's cruise speed is probably an indicated airspeed of something like 220 miles per hour. Very slow, true airspeed probably 300 to 350.

COSSACK: One can assume that that plane was flying at a cruise speed of about 250, 275 miles per hour.

FARRELL: Right.

COSSACK: And the Chinese fighter jet is an F-6?

FARRELL: F-8.

COSSACK: F-8, capable of flying or cruising at what speed?

FARRELL: Supersonic.

COSSACK: All right. Now, when you have someone in flying a supersonic plane and someone flying a plane that could be best described by today's standards as kind of a turtle, the fighter plane is the one that decides who gets close to whom.

FARRELL: Of course, it's the more agile. It's the fastest airplane, and any fighter pilot, even a Chinese fighter pilot knows big, slow airplanes don't join on small airplanes, small airplanes join on big airplanes. That's the way it works.

COSSACK: All right, it's been described now that the plane, the Chinese plane made two passes at a 45-degree angle, and came within three to five feet of this plane. I suppose that what I'm really trying to get at here is the notion of the word "fault" being thrown around. Is there any way that you can imagine where the American plane could have been at fault for this accident?

FARRELL: I didn't think so. The normal rules of the air, and from the very first day of training you're taught this, it's your responsibility to clear yourself from other airplanes. If you are a smaller airplane, you're taught it is your responsibility to clear yourself from a larger airplane.

So, there's really no way in which a larger airplane can be considered to be at fault for a collision like this because the responsibility is on the smaller, more agile, faster airplane.

COSSACK: Is there a point, when you're flying a plane, like the United States plane was, where there would be blind spots; where, perhaps, the American pilot wouldn't know that this F-8 was as close as it apparently was?

FARRELL: Well, in a large airplane, the cockpit is normally faired in, so you normally only see out the front. It's a low-wing airplane, so you can't see anything under the wings, and it's very difficult to see behind you. So, anything from about 90 degrees on back is difficult to see.

COSSACK: Let's talk about the damage to the American plane, and what, if any, does that evidence of the kind damage that the American plane sustained. What conclusions does that lead to and could you describe what that damage was?

FARRELL: Well, it looks like one or more propellers was damaged, at least the photos I've seen, it's got one propeller that's damaged. The radome has obviously been taken off. It looks like, from the damage on the prop, that the prop has hit something. So, I would suspect that a likely scenario would be that the prop, for some reason, the Chinese airplane ran into the prop.

COSSACK: OK, General, let me interrupt you for one second. Let's go to the State Department for it's daily briefing on the China controversy. Let's go there now to Richard Boucher.

(INTERRUPTED FOR LIVE EVENT)

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