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China Agrees to Release Crew of U.S. Reconnaissance Plane

Aired April 11, 2001 - 17:00   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.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Judy Woodruff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We wish them a speedy, quick homecoming, and thank you, President Bush, whatever it took.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: After being detained in China for nearly 11 days, U.S. service men and women prepare to return home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Situations such as this remind us how much our military personnel and their families sacrifice for our freedom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The president wins praise from military families. But how is the agreement with China playing politically?

Plus: the two survivors of the battle to lead Los Angeles.

Now Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm in our New York bureau today.

Those 24 U.S. crew members who have been detained by China may be just a few hours away from beginning their journey home. A charter jet left Guam earlier today to pick up the crew. It is expected to land on China's Hainan Island in about one hour. The Pentagon says the plane will stay on the island for at least two hours for refueling. It is not yet clear if the crew will leave immediately after that.

This all comes about 12 hours after China informed the United States that it would hand over the service men and women. That signaled an end to the standoff that began nearly 11 days ago, when the U.S. crew's surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet and made an emergency landing in Chinese territory. The announcement of the release also signaled the end of an early diplomatic test for President Bush.

CNN's Major Garrett is with the president in North Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president brought good news to North Carolina and to a family hungry to hear it, the Blochers, whose son Steven will soon be coming home.

BUSH: I'm so appreciative of how this family and the other families were steadfast in their patriotism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To meet the president under such happy circumstances was more than we could have ask the Lord for in any way.

GARRETT: The get-together capped the 11-day standoff.

BUSH: This morning, the Chinese government assured our American ambassador that the crew would leave promptly.

GARRETT: The crew's release, however, came at a price.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were very sorry to the Chinese people and the family of pilot Wang Wei, and they were very sorry for the U.S. plane entering China's airspace and landing without a verbal clearance.

GARRETT: The U.S. also agreed to an April 18th meeting to discuss the collision and allow the Chinese to raise the subject of future U.S. surveillance flights. The White House says it held firm and did not apologize for the surveillance flight and gave no hint that surveillance flights will stop. President Clinton's former national security adviser says the Bush White House did not blink.

SANDY BERGER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It's not, I think, an apology. We've seen -- we've been heading in this direction. We've seen Secretary Powell go from regret to sorrow to sorry to now very sorry. It's a little bit like Hansel and Gretel. If you follow the trail of bread crumbs, it leads to this point.

GARRETT: Mr. Bush arrived at this point early Wednesday. His national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, received a call at 12:45 a.m. from the State Department that Chinese officials wanted to see the final draft of the U.S. letter. At 5:00 a.m., Ambassador Prueher met the Chinese, who eventually assured him of the crew's release. At 5:40 a.m., Rice called the president with news that China promised to release the crew. At 6:30 a.m., Chinese television announced the release.

At 6:50 a.m., the president arrived at the Oval Office to meet with Rice and other top advisers to prepare his announcement in the White House briefing room.

(on camera): The EP-3 surveillance plane will not be released before that April 18th meeting, but senior White House officials say that obtaining the release of that craft and what's left of its sensitive equipment is now the top U.S. priority, that and establishing the facts of how the midair collision occurred in the first place.

Major Garrett, CNN, Concord, North Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Let's get more now on the diplomacy behind the China agreement and the language U.S. officials used to say they're sorry.

CNN's David Ensor joins us from the State Department -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, ambiguity is sort of the mother's milk of diplomacy sometimes, and I think if you look closely at the language of the letter that Ambassador Prueher signed on behalf of the United States, you see some of where the ambiguity has been useful, both for the Americans and for the Chinese.

Take the second "very sorry" sentence in what is being described as the "two very sorrys letter."

"We are very sorry the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance."

Well, are they saying that they're sorry they weren't -- they weren't asking forcefully enough for verbal clearance? Are they saying they're sorry that the Chinese didn't give it to them, that the plane was in distress?

It's an ambiguous sentence, but it allows the Chinese to say that we have said, the U.S. has said it's very sorry. It allows the U.S. to say we have not apologized. And that is the point stressed by Secretary of State Powell, who's on travel in Paris.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And so we were expressing the fact that we were sorry, very sorry, regret the loss of his life. And President Bush also wrote to his -- his wife. And what with respect to the second place where we used that language, it had to do with the fact that we entered their airspace without permission because we were unable to get permission. But that young pilot was faced with a crisis: His plane had been badly damaged. He had to get it on the ground. He had 23 lives plus his own to save, and niceties and formalities were not available to him at that moment. And he did a marvelous job of putting that plane on the ground.

But he did enter airspace without permission and landed without permission, and for that we are very sorry, but glad he did it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ENSOR: Officials do point out that this basic deal, the outlines of the deal that has in fact been accepted now by the Chinese, would have been available to them some days ago. But officials say it does take time sometimes for Beijing to make its mind up and to confer amongst itself, and that is apparently what happened this time -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, David, are you saying the administration was prepared to use this same language days ago, but it wasn't clear that the Chinese would accept it?

ENSOR: I'm saying exactly that. Official here say that this very language, this exact text, was on offer several days ago. The Chinese thought about it, it took them some time. That's basically how it went in the last few days, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. David Ensor reporting from the State Department.

Well, Bush administration officials say the president expects to get some flak from the right wing of the Republican Party because of his expressions of sorrow and regret to the Chinese. But many members of Congress offered kudos today for Mrs. Bush's -- Mr. Bush's handling of the standoff, as CNN's Kate Snow reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On Capitol Hill, support for the commander in chief.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: This is a great triumph of diplomacy for the new administration. President Bush has handled this matter with great discretion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the president has done a fabulous job. They've contained it in the executive branch. He's used his foreign policy team extremely well. It's certainly been confidence building.

SNOW: With Congress on a two-week recess, the fax machines were humming. A written statement from House Speaker Dennis Hastert said: "The president exhibited mature and responsible leadership throughout this tense situation."

And Senator Jesse Helms, "... extremely proud of President Bush..." said the crew "... should never have been incarcerated to begin with."

Lawmakers couched their statements, concerned the incident could leave a terrible scar on the relations between the U.S. and China. Members of the two congressional intelligence committees said surveillance flights off the coast of China would have to continue.

REP. PORTER GOSS (R), FLORIDA: We do not fly legal, lawful air missions such as this one in international space for the fun of it. We do it for our national security.

Yes, there is, I suppose, some risk to all of this, but the fact of the matter is we need to have this surveillance. And if there's a way we can do it differently that's less offensive to some people, that might be a matter worth discussing.

SNOW: Also being discussed, the possibility of re-examining trade relations with China.

SEN. PAUL SARBANES (D), MARYLAND: I don't think we negotiated a good trade deal, and that issue will obviously come up again. I expect it will continue to be an issue before us.

SNOW: Anti-China rhetoric in Congress could fuel support for sales of military technology to Taiwan. And what about the Olympics? China wants to host them in 2008. Resolutions opposing Beijing's bid are pending in the House and Senate. The Chinese embassy says it sent a letter to every member of Congress asking them not to interfere with the Olympic selection process.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is one of those sponsors of that legislation. She says that letter from the Chinese ambassador, Ambassador Yang, "... isn't worth the paper that it's written on." She adds that "In light of the recent events, if China thinks that Congress won't take action and make a statement on the Olympics," -- quote -- "they're dreaming."

Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: Kate, you mentioned there's talk of renegotiating trade deals with China. How serious is that possibility, according to people you're talking to?

SNOW: There's been talk here on the Hill of looking at it again, and that's the way it's pretty much been stated. It's taking another look at what they passed last year, permanent normal trade relations with China. But the possibility, Judy, of actually reversing that is unclear at this point and seems to be dimming.

As one Republican aide put it to us, you know, now that there's a resolution to this standoff it makes it even harder to convince the more moderate members of Congress, who might be more moderate on China, to go along with that kind of a reversal -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kate Snow at the Capitol, thanks very much.

And we are joined now by GOP conservative and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and Republican Congressman Ric Keller of Florida. Two members of the U.S. crew in China are from his congressional district.

Gentlemen, thank you both, and Gary Bauer, to you first. How do you accept the administration's handling of the end of this, or what appears to be the end of this problem?

GARY BAUER (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Judy, like all Americans I'm excited that these men and women are coming home. We can all celebrate that. But as I look at the last 10 days, I don't see anything that we did that makes it less likely that something like this will happen in the future. In fact, in many ways, the Chinese have paid no price the last 10 days. And I think this may embolden elements of the People's Liberation Army that calls us a paper tiger. So I think that going forward from here, it's really important what we do. I think we need to resume the flights as quickly as possible. I think we need to sell Taiwan real weapons, not World War II weapons. And I would begin to look at those Chinese companies operating in the United States that are controlled by the People's Liberation Army. Why in the world are we doing business with the people that knocked our airplane out of the sky?

WOODRUFF: Well, let me -- I want to ask you about the specifics of those, but first, let me get Congressman Keller to comment on how this whole thing was brought to an apparent end -- congressman.

REP. RIC KELLER (R), FLORIDA: Well, Judy, thank you. I just think President Bush and Colin Powell did a fantastic job. I'm very proud to have him as my president, and as a result, we have 24 brave soldiers coming home.

He asked us to tone down our rhetoric as members of Congress, and I think that was the responsible and reasonable thing to do.

This is not a time to go on TV or to give inflammatory speeches as if we were members of the World Wrestling Federation. Lives are at stake here. And it's my position that the bottom line is things are important. That plane is important. But the ultimate important thing is people.

And I know that Mr. Gary Bauer believes in the sanctity of human life, and he too must have put that in the forefront, that we have got to get those soldiers back home. And I applaud the president for doing such a wonderful job.

WOODRUFF: Gary Bauer...

BAUER: Well, Judy...

WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

BAUER: Well, I was just going to say. Obviously, the congressman is right about human life, but I think every American needs to realize that the lives are at stake -- that are at stake are not just the 24 we're talking about. There are airmen and seamen in international waters right now doing surveillance work on the outside of China. Did we handle this in a way that makes them safer or that puts them more at risk?

I don't know why the People's Liberation Army is going to be less aggressive in view of the last 10 days.

WOODRUFF: Well, let me -- Congressman Keller, are you concerned about that?

KELLER: Not really. There's so much we don't know at this point, Judy. We don't know how the soldiers were treated, humanely or not humanely. We don't know what if any type of sensitive equipment was taken off the plane. And we're going to know that in about seven days. So right now, I think we should be thankful we have our soldiers back home, and the next step is to do our little investigation and have our meeting seven days from now.

And then at that point, and only at that point, would we be in a better-informed position to discuss what sanctions or trade restrictions, if any, we should impose, after we're a little better- informed.

WOODRUFF: Gary Bauer, what are you saying the administration should have done that it didn't do?

BAUER: Well, I think very early on in back channels we should have been -- it should have been made clear to Beijing that every hour of delay, for example, increased the ultimate package of aid that we would end up sending to Taiwan. I think it would have been better to bring our ambassador home for a day or two in order to indicate our displeasure. And I think it's amazing under these circumstances that the last 10 days were spent on what degree of apology we were going to give for very provocative acts by the Chinese that have been going on for months now.

I would just say to the congressman maybe we do need to wait a week, but we can certainly look at the last 10 day years. And for 10 years, we've been playing softball with the Chinese, emphasizing trade over everything else. And by every measurement, they are getting worse in their foreign relations, not better.

WOODRUFF: Congressman...

BAUER: Whether it's Iraq, Iran, missile technology, whatever it is, they're more provocative against U.S. interests.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Keller.

KELLER: Well, Mr. Bauer is certainly an articulate spokesman, and even though I was campaigning for Congress myself I saw many debates where he debated President Bush and John McCain on these issues. And they happened to disagree with him, and he's an articulate spokesman.

But the truth of the matter is that 10 years ago the images we saw from China were students standing in front of tanks. Now the images we see on our TV screen are students sitting in front of Internet cafes and McDonald's. And I believe by exposing them to Western democratic thought and Internet, and giving them Bibles, we have some hope of improving. But I'm sensitive to the fact that they've got a long way to go.

WOODRUFF: Gary Bauer, are you saying that if it meant the United States getting more of what it wanted or the kind of conclusion that it wanted, that it was worth having that crew stay in China longer and maybe not come home for quite some time, if at all?

BAUER: No. I think the fallacy to the question, Judy, is that weakness works with tyrants. I think if they thought we were strong the crew would have been back faster, not slower.

Look, it's wonderful to be selling them cell phones and to have folks in Beijing going to Internet stores. The fact of the matter is, congressman -- you are certainly aware of this -- that China is spreading weapons of mass destruction to our enemies around the world, whether it's Iraq, Iran, North Korea, other places. They've took the side of Milosevic in the Balkans war. They've been extremely aggressive in the last 90 days in the air and sea.

Their military newspapers, congressman -- I'm not sure what news reports you're looking at. But their military newspapers refer to us as the main enemy.

We need a wakeup call, and trade is not going to solve this problem.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Keller.

KELLER: Well, he's essentially making the same-spirited arguments he made during the debate, and there's just another side. And I think by opening up them to Western thought and getting in there and make a difference, maybe we have a hope of democratic elections.

And I, too, share his concerns, particularly on certain issues related to forced abortions and human rights. But that's a spirited debate for another day.

Today, the issue is we've got our folks back home. And after we see what happened to them and how they were treated, then we can revisit, if possible, whether there should be any trade restrictions or whether we need to look at any other form of sanctions. But that's for another day.

WOODRUFF: All right. Representative Ric Keller, we appreciate you're being with us. Gary Bauer, thank you both.

BAUER: Thank you.

KELLER: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Gentlemen. And ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, will the standoff with China mean political fallout here at home? We'll ask CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

But first, the president says the U.S. crew will be leaving China promptly. We will take you to Hawaii, an early stop on the road back home.

Plus, a collective sigh of relief in Washington state. We'll talk with family and friends who are making plans for a major homecoming celebration.

This is INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: The U.S. military personnel held in China could be headed for the U.S. in just a matter of hours. But it will be several more days before the crew is finally home. The group will arrive first in Guam, where they are expected to board a military transport jet for a flight to Hawaii.

CNN's national correspondent Martin Savidge is in Hawaii, outside the U.S. Pacific Command, and he joins us now with the latest -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, the Navy is basically saying that when the crew eventually does arrive here in Hawaii, it's being described as an intermediate stop. The reason that they are using that kind of language is that they do not want to give the false impression that the major welcoming home for this crew is going to take place here in Hawaii.

The reason for that is because family members are not here. They are waiting for them at various other bases, also waiting for them up on Whidbey Island, which is the home base of the aircraft itself.

So basically, when the plane eventually does get here with the 24 crew members, they will be greeted with a very low-key and very short- lasting ceremony. Primarily, there will be high-ranking officers that will be here to greet them.

And then the crew will be quickly whisked away for what's anticipated to be three days of very intensive debriefing. This would be the first formal and thorough debrief that the crew has undergone. Certainly, that was something that could not be done when they were being held by the Chinese.

Now, it is also a time when the crew is expected to undergo medical examinations. They are expected to be in very good health. But it's just primarily routine at this particular point.

And it's also considered to be a time for the crew to kind of mentally decompress, if that's the way to try to describe it. It is a process expected to last about three days, and on the fourth day, then they can be on their way back to Whidbey Island -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Martin, Hawaii, in Hawaii, the Pacific Command, basically, the headquarters for this crew, even though they actually were operating out of Okinawa.

SAVIDGE: That is correct. It's basically the overall command that oversees the EP-3s and the crews that fly on board of them. So it makes sense not only logistically that they would come to Hawaii on the way back to the mainland, but also it makes sense from the point of view that the Pacific Command wants to clearly understand what took place in the air at the time of this collision and also what may have transpired on the ground after the plane landed on the Chinese island.

WOODRUFF: All right. Martin Savidge reporting from Hawaii.

The U.S. personnel detained in China operated, as we said, out of the U.S. air base at Okinawa, Japan. But the plane and most of its crew are based at Whidbey Island naval air station in Washington state.

CNN's national correspondent Brian Cabell is standing by for us there -- Brian.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Judy. So far we haven't gotten all that information, much information from naval authorities here. We're told they're involved in a number of meetings, they're making arrangements for the return of the 24 men and women. When that will be exactly, we don't know at this point.

In any case, whenever that is, the town is ready for them. You may have heard over the last few days there have been a number of yellow ribbons, hundreds, thousands of yellow ribbons, so much so that one merchant told us yesterday that they are out of yellow ribbons here in the town of Oak Harbor.

Speaking of yellow ribbons, with us right now, U.S. Senator Patty Murray with a yellow ribbon.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Absolutely.

CABELL: You have -- you have a -- a home nearby, but you've taken a particular interest in this. You had a trip canceled, as a matter of fact.

MURRAY: Well, I did. My home is here on Whidbey Island, so I feel very close to the 24 crew members. They're part of our family here on Whidbey Island. And I had a trip scheduled to leave last Saturday, and I talked to the ambassador from China. I told him, you know, when my men and women from Whidbey aren't home I can't go visit your home. So I was unable to go.

CABELL: Were you trying to apply some personal pressure on them?

MURRAY: Absolutely. I felt it was very important. I have a very personal relationship with Ambassador Yang. I've known him for a number of years now. China is a very important country to the state of Washington. We have a lot of trade that goes on here, from our Boeing airplanes to a lot of our high-tech.

And I wanted to be able to continue that relationship, and I conveyed to the ambassador that that was going to hurt us, if this carried on much longer.

CABELL: Do you have any inside information as to when these men and women will be back here at Whidbey?

MURRAY: I talked to Captain (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from Whidbey, and I asked a few hours ago, and they are unable to give us a definite time yet. Some time between Saturday and Tuesday depending on how much time they have to spend in Hawaii before they come home.

CABELL: What about Easter Sunday? MURRAY: Well, that's in the middle of there. We'll see. But I can tell you this: When our men and women come back to Whidbey, there is going to be a huge celebration. People are excited. They're relieved, and they are so proud of this crew.

There's going to be a big celebration.

CABELL: Will the Navy bringing families from all over the country here?

MURRAY: It's my understanding that the Navy is bringing the family members here to Whidbey NAS to welcome the crew members home.

CABELL: What about the Bush Administration's performance here? How did they deal with this crisis?

MURRAY: Well, I think at first they were unclear of how they wanted to proceed, but by the end of last week, they had learned that with the Chinese, as many of us know who deal with them, culture is extremely important, words are very important. And I think they did a good job over the last several days putting those words together.

It was a win-win situation, both for our country and for China.

CABELL: Overall relations with China, were they damaged?

MURRAY: Well, certainly I think that in the long run there will be members of Congress who will bring this incident up whenever we discuss issues of China. But I think that because it's resolved and both countries feel good about how it's ending now, I'm hopeful -- because I think it's extremely important -- that we can continue to have a good relationship with China.

CABELL: Senator Murray, thank you very much.

Once again, a big sigh of relief from all Whidbey residents, including Senator Murray, and a big parade scheduled, probably in the next few days.

I'm Brian Cabell, CNN live. Back to you.

WOODRUFF: OK, Brian, just a quick question -- I don't know how long you've been in that area -- I'm just curious to know if the editorial comments, the conversation among the people who live there, are as supportive of the administration as we just heard Senator Murray she now is.

CABELL: For the most part they are. There -- obviously, they've been supportive all along. They haven't said an awful lot critical of the Bush administration. They have simply been impatient, frankly, for the last 10 days or so. They simply wanted the people to come back. They didn't want to get involved in politics. They just wanted their men and women back.

That was basically what they've been saying.

WOODRUFF: All right. Brian Cabell at Whidbey Island in Washington state. Thanks.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, did President Bush pass his first international test, or are there hurdles still ahead? Our Bill Schneider on the political outcome of the China standoff.

But first, a check of the day's top stories, including the latest on a meeting between Israelis and Palestinians after a night of violence in Gaza.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We'll have more of this day's political news coming up, but now a quick look at some other top stories.

Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs met today in a bid to end seven weeks of violence, but the fighting continued in a deadly way. Two Palestinians, a policeman and a civilian, were killed and a dozen wounded when the Israeli military destroyed or damaged some 30 homes in a Gaza refugee camp. It was the first time since the fighting erupted that the Israelis struck inside Palestinian-controlled territory.

In South Africa, as many as 50 people were killed today in a stampede at a soccer game in Johannesburg. According to initial reports, tickets were oversold. Fans outside the stadium pressed to get in and people were crushed to death. Emergency vehicles had trouble getting to the stadium because of traffic jams.

In an annual report released today, an environmental group says efforts to expand domestic energy sources may endanger American rivers. The group cited several in particular. It said Alaska's Canning River is threatened by proposals for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. California's Eel River could suffer from hydroelectric dams, and the Powder River basin in Wyoming, according to the group, is threatened by plans to dig natural gas wells. Those claims made today by the environmental group called American Rivers.

One of the biggest names on the Internet, Yahoo!, has confirmed that it offers pornographic materials for sale. The information was revealed in an article from "The Los Angeles Times." Yahoo!, one of the most popular Internet search engines, receives an estimated 185 million page views per month. Company officials say they have instituted stringent procedures to prevent underage people from buying pornographic material. And after the market closed today, Yahoo!, which analysts expected to lose money, posted a small first quarter profit.

On Wall Street, it was the blue chips that had trouble today. The Dow lost momentum early, posted an 89 point loss for the day. But the Nasdaq market continued its recent rebound, finishing the day with a 46 point gain. The "MONEYLINE NEWS HOUR" will have more on what factors are moving the markets. That's at 6:30 Eastern, right after INSIDE POLITICS.

We're told President Bush is about to make a statement in South Carolina. We will try to bring that to you when it gets under way. And when INSIDE POLITICS returns, will the real political test begin after the U.S. crew returns home? Our Bill Schneider is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: These are live pictures from Greenville, North Carolina. President Bush visiting there today. He is expected to speak in just a few moments, no doubt will address the resolution of the crisis, the standoff the United States has been engaged in with China over the last 11 days. We are just now waiting for the president to come out. This gentleman appears to be introducing President Bush.

And while we're waiting for the president to speak, and as soon as he does begin we'll go back to North Carolina, to our Bill Schneider now. And with regard to China, the Bush administration evidently struck the correct note diplomatically when it reached an agreement. The question is did the president hit the right political note?

Our Bill Schneider joins us now from Los Angeles -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, you know, during the Cold War, every new president had to face a test of resolve against the Soviet Union. Well, the Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is gone. But the test is still there. President Bush faced it. How did he do?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The bottom line is the crew is coming home. That's what matters most to Americans. By that standard, Bush passed his first test in an international crisis. You might even say the president showed resolve by resisting pressure to do something rash that might have endangered American lives.

BUSH: Our approach has been to keep this accident from becoming an international incident.

SCHNEIDER: But this could turn out to be a costly victory for President Bush. He had to do something Americans are unlikely to feel proud of. For the past 10 days, the administration has been publicly searching for a formula that would satisfy the Chinese. The Chinese demanded an apology. We said we were sorry for violating for entering their airspace without permission; very sorry.

JAMES LILLEY, FRM. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: The use of "very" was something we had suggested earlier, and was included in there "very, very, very sorry."

SCHNEIDER: The Chinese demanded expressions of sincerity. They got it, orally.

BUSH: I know the American people join me in expressing sorrow for the loss of life of a Chinese pilot. SCHNEIDER: And in writing.

LILLEY: The Chinese insist upon sincerity, and I noticed that "sincere regret" was put in there, and this must have given them a blush a pleasure.

SCHNEIDER: But it certainly did not give Americans a blush of pride.

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: They want an apology? I have got an apology for them. I am sorry we ever passed PNTR, and I'll do my best to take it back.

SCHNEIDER: Critics may hold their fire until the crew is back and celebrations are over. An editorial in the conservative "Weekly Standard" predicts, quote: "The profound national humiliation that President Bush has brought upon the United States may be forgotten temporarily when the American aircrew return home."

But the editors contend, quote: "President Bush has revealed weakness, and he has revealed fear; fear of the political, strategic and economic consequences of meeting a Chinese challenge."

The pressure will be on President Bush to take steps to regain the perception of strength, which means exacting a price from the Chinese. But what exactly? Trade sanctions; that will be strongly resisted by U.S. business interests. Sell advanced weapons to Taiwan?

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: They have all but assured the fact that the United States of America is going to provide Taiwan the weapons it needs to defend itself and deter attack from the mainland of China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: We're going live to Greenville, North Carolina. President Bush there to speak at East Carolina University and he will no doubt be commenting on today's resolution of the U.S.-China standoff. Let's listen.

(APPLAUSE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: Richard, thank you very much for your kind hospitality.

I am proud to be an honorary member of the East Carolina baseball team.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: I am proud to be on this campus.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: I am proud to be in east Carolina.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: And I'm proud I've got so many friends in this great state.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: It is such an honor to be here, and I want to thank you all for coming. I understand that some good folks spent the night last night here to be here.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: I promise not to speak so long so you will fall asleep.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: But I'm really thankful that you're here. I'm thankful to be out of Washington, D.C....

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: ... with the good, hardworking people of this part of our country.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: And I'm pleased to report that a commercial charter airplane is close to landing in Hainan Island.

(APPLAUSE)

AUDIENCE: U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.

BUSH: The plane is expected to leave that island in a couple of hours, bound for Guam and then for Hawaii.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: Earlier today, I had the privilege and honor to meet fellow North Carolinians Bob and Sandra Blocher, the parents of one of the 24 crew members, Petty Officer Third Class Steven Blocher.

They are, of course, as you can imagine, thrilled to know that the service men and women are returning home.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: These have been difficult days for all of the families. And these days are a reminder of the sacrifices all of our men and women in uniform and their families make every single day for freedom.

(APPLAUSE) BUSH: And so we're proud and thankful for the service folks. We're proud and thankful for their parents. And we can't wait for them to get home.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: I am pleased to be here with the senior senator from the great state of North Carolina...

(APPLAUSE)

WOODRUFF: President Bush in Greenville, North Carolina at East Carolina University. You can see all the students there obviously very excited the president is there. As you heard him say, pretty much information that has already been made public that the commercial charter plane is close to landing at Hainan Island. It will take within a matter of a few hours, the 24 crew members from there to Guam and from there they will go on to Hawaii.

He said he had talked with the parents of one of the crew members and said that they were obviously thrilled that their son was going to be released. He went to say that he is proud and thankful for the service folks and for what they've done and he can't wait for them to be home. Beyond that, no further details.

And we will continue to listen to the president. If we have more information coming from there and certainly, if there is information from Hainan on the landing of that plane or on any movement of the U.S crew members, we will certainly report that.

Now, do we go back to Bill Schneider? Bill Schneider, you were in the in middle of a report on the political repercussions for this president and I'm going to turn it right back over to you -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, what I was saying in the end of that piece was that there will be pressure on President Bush. I think once the celebrations are over and the crew is home safe, I think there's going to be pressure for him to take steps to show that the United States can regain a position of strength, and what that means really is try to make the Chinese pay a price for what they've done.

But what can he do? There are three things that are being talked about: arms sales to Taiwan, that could be very provocative. Another is to boycott the Olympics or to say that the Chinese will not be allowed to host the Olympics in 2008, but that reminds too many people, I think, of President Carter when he boycotted the Olympics after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Trade sanctions are being discussed, but there you're going to have a lot of problems with American business.

Nevertheless, I think that the United States is going to be under a lot of pressure to show that it will not tolerate this kind treatment. What will he do? My view is that's going to be his second test.

WOODRUFF: Well, Bill, my question to you very briefly is if this kind of pressure is coming simply from the right wing, the conservative wing of the Republican Party or conservative voices in the Republican Party, why wouldn't that kind of pressure be countered from all those people in the middle or others in the Republican Party who don't want to take action against China?

SCHNEIDER: Well, actually, it's mostly a fight within the Republican Party among business interests who don't want to take sanctions against China and ideological conservatives who feel as if the United States has been humiliated, as I quoted in "The Weekly Standard."

The middle out there, I think is of both minds. They're relieved and happy that the crew is coming home. But there are an awful lot of people who I think after a few days pass, they're going to think about what happened and they're going to say, well, you know, the United States was really humiliated in this.

We spent over 10 days trying to come up with a formula to satisfy the Chinese, and I think that large middle group is going to begin to sympathize with the notion that the United States -- this was not a proud moment for American foreign policy. The United States did not stand tall. And while we did the right thing in getting our crew home safely, something has to be done to show the world that the United States is not going to take this sort of thing lightly.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Up next, more on the president's handling of the China standoff with Margaret Carlson and Tucker Carlson. This is INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: CNN's Kelly Wallace at the White House has been following the story of the diplomatic breakthrough that brought the agreement today to release those 24 crew members over in China.

Kelly, I understand you have some new information about what actually led to the wording of this letter.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Judy. A senior administration official very much involved in these negotiations, briefing a few reporters just a few moments ago, and this official saying really by Wednesday, by exactly a week ago, basically sort of the White House's strategy had been put forward to the Chinese, and that the rest of the timeframe had really been negotiating over words.

The White House saying it made it clear to the Chinese that it wanted the crew members out first, and that the plane could come later, and that there was nothing that the U.S. was going the apologize for. Apparently, the first draft of this letter that the U.S. ambassador to China, Admiral Prueher, had presented to the Chinese including the word regret; the United States expressing regret for the apparent loss of life of that Chinese fighter pilot, and also for the American plane entering Chinese airspace and landing on Chinese territory without permission. Well, then, the Chinese wanted more than regret. And so I believe by about Thursday's timeframe, the word sorry became used. Sorry for the loss of life as well as for entering airspace without permission. But Judy, it was about, oh, I would say Sunday morning, this past Sunday morning our time when the words very sorry were used.

So, the U.S. putting forth the letter very sorry for the loss of that fighter pilot as well as for the plane entering Chinese airspace. So, it was from Sunday until now that the administration was waiting for the Chinese to respond. The officials saying there were some modest changes in this letter, but nothing very, very significant when it comes to the actual components of the deal.

And it wasn't, of course, until today that the administration heard yes from the Chinese; yes, in fact, it was accepting this deal. A couple of other interesting points. As for what the administration believes really got the Chinese to go ahead and say yes, well, this administration believes certainly the Chinese were feeling some pressure, watching members of Congress decide to cancel trips to China, members of U.S. businesses deciding to cancel trips, the administration starting to put forward the message the longer this goes on, there is a point at which the relationship could be damaged.

We even heard senior officials on the Sunday talk shows this weekend saying there has already been some damage. That can be repaired, but if this goes on longer, there will be even more damage and maybe that damage cannot be repaired.

As for the president himself, this official was asked if Mr. Bush ever showed any anxiety or concern that this strategy may not work. The official saying that the president more than others within the administration thought that this problem was going to be resolved and would be eventually resolved in a timely matter.

And again, one other question. You know, we had been asking why wouldn't the president pick up the phone and try to reach out to his Chinese counterpart, President Jiang Zemin. This official believing the administration's perspective is that such a phone call might box in, that's the word that the official used, might box in the Chinese president. And so the advisers here decided the better approach, try to have those mid- to high-level contacts and not have the president make that call, believing that might box in the Chinese president.

So, some interesting background about how the administration believes it got to this point -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kelly Wallace reporting from the White House. Thanks.

Former President Bush, in Little Rock, Arkansas today, expressing his confidence in his son's -- I'm sorry, I wasn't suppose to read that. My apologies. Well, joining us now, Margaret Carlson of "Time" magazine and Tucker Carlson of CNN's "SPIN ROOM."

Tucker, this is the president's first real foreign policy test. How has he done? TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, CNN'S "THE SPIN ROOM": Well, I mean, obviously, it's good thing that the hostages -- I'm sorry, the guests are coming back. But it seem like a display on some level of weakness. And for all the talk of how President Bush is being controlled by the business community and this arsenic story, none of which, I think, mean very much ultimately, this is one story you can look at and plausibly say, gee, maybe economic interests, American corporations that do business with China, did have an influence on the way that we handled this.

Notice that economic sanctions were never talked about seriously from the beginning until now. It was never really on the table as a response and I think it's the business community had something to do with that and I think that's a fair criticism of the Bush administration.

WOODRUFF: Margaret, is it so terrible if the business community had a influence on the president?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, the business community has too much influence on our relationship with China. Each year most favored nation status comes up, we harrumph about how China hasn't improved in this and that they're still very bad on human rights. And then, inevitably, without any promises from them, they get most favored nation status.

Now, they have PNTR is going to come up again, and I suspect the one long-term card we held in this situation, which is to hurt them on trade, we won't play.

I disagree with Tucker. I don't think the weakness over this period was that acute. At the beginning, Judy, did you see, you apologized for reading the wrong word. People apologize all the time. They lost a life. It was not -- you know, what happened between our saying, listen, we were in sovereign territory and we want the plane back and just now, when was said, hey, we're really sorry -- two week's time when we were in an unstable situation, an accidental situation.

Now, we go back to the kind of situation we always have where the balance of power is in our favor, in the United States' favor, and now we can see how much impact these business people still continue to have, whether they still continue to have that much.

WOODRUFF: Tucker, is the wording I'm sorry and regret so terrible in your view. The administration, the president, the ambassador wasn't apologizing for the incident. It was apologizing, though, for coming into -- or saying we're sorry for coming into Chinese airspace without clearance.

T. CARLSON: Right, very sorry, I think it was. Yes, sure, but there's nothing to apologize for. I mean, that's ludicrous. The plane was crippled because of the reckless behavior of this Chinese pilot, apparently, and so the plane needed someplace to. There's no, strictly speaking, no reason, of course, to apologize for that. As a political implication, let me just say there's this idea that all the criticism that's going to be heaped on Bush is going to come from the Republican right, from "The Weekly Standard," et cetera. I think there's some truth in that.

But I also point out, some of it is inevitably going to come from the left, people like Nancy Pelosi, the congresswoman from California, very liberal but also very tough on China and Chinese human rights abuses, and I don't think it's unlikely that you'll start to hear sniping from that corner as well, sort of the liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans joining to criticize the administration for being weak on pushing China on human rights, among other things.

WOODRUFF: Margaret, what other choices did the president have here?

M. CARLSON: To do what he did sooner, perhaps. Now, all is well that ends well, but perhaps this could have happened 10 days ago. But now, they are coming home. He gets credit for having gotten us out of this, and i think it's a plus for him in the end.

WOODRUFF: All right...

T. CARLSON: Let me just quickly, there's also the question of the plane. What's going to happen with the plane? And I'll also be interested to see in further reporting on this if there are other elements, if there were parts of this deal struck that we don't know about having to do with reconnaissance over the South China Sea and I'd watch carefully to find out if there were.

WOODRUFF: All right, Tucker Carlson, Margaret Carlson. Thank you both.

A U.S. plane is expected to arrive this hour to retrieve the U.S. military personnel detained in China. We'll have the latest on when the crew heads for home in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... some of the headwinds and arrive exactly on time. It has, at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time and that's 6:00 a.m. there in Hainan Province in China. The plane will now taxi over and begin to get refueled. The Pentagon estimates -- they have allocated about 2 hours now to load the crew onto the plane, to get it ready for the returned trip back to Guam.

This plane has on it the U.S. military personnel, some medical personnel, psychologists, and some of the people who will actually begin the debriefing process of the crew. It will start right on the plane as it takes off and gets back -- heads back to U.S. soil, at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, a flight that will take roughly five hours.

So, if everything goes as scheduled, the plane gets off the ground in the next two hours or so; the Pentagon is expecting that those Americans back on the U.S. soil in Guam by around midnight Eastern time. Then, from there, they will -- they will transfer to a C-17 cargo plane, transport plane and take that to the Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, where they should arrive tomorrow morning local time and be greeted at a formal ceremony there.

But, the Pentagon has been very cautious all day about talking about any of these arrangements. They have been concerned there could be a last-minute snag and they didn't want to get pinned down on anything. But it appears that this first leg of the trip anyway, the flight from Guam to Hainan Island has come off without a hitch.

And the next step will be to see if the 24 U.S. crew members are in fact loaded on the plane and the plane is refueled and sent on its way.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, let me just get you to help us out geographically. We know that Hainan Island is off of the coast of Southern China. Now, tell us again, what is the distance from Guam, where this plane has come from to this part of the China?

MCINTYRE: Well, without my atlas in front of me, Judy, I don't have the mileage, but I'm told that the flight is normally about 4-5 hours. It varies, based on the headwinds. This is landing at the international airport at Haikou, which is on the northern part of Hainan Island, not the military air strip down a little bit to the south where the U.S. reconnaissance plane, the EP-3 had to conduct its emergency landing, back on Sunday, April the 1st.

So, this is the commercial airport. You can see that there are other airplanes there on the runway, and Continental Airlines charter flight will be refueled and dispatched on its way as soon as possible.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, why not a military plane? Do we know?

MCINTYRE: Well, the Pentagon had a military plane standing by, but they always thought that China would probably insist that there would be a civilian aircraft, not in military plane. So, they had two plans going on the same time. One, they had arranged the charter plane and two, they had a military plane standing by from Okinawa.

They always sort of assumed that the Chinese government would want this to be a civilian aircraft that took them off of the island. That's why they had the military transport standing by at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, we want you to stand by. Joining us now on the phone from Hainan Island, reporter Lisa Rose Weaver.

Lisa, what can you tell us about what you are seeing and hearing there?

LISA ROSE WEAVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are seeing what we believe to be the flight of the Continental 737, having arrived from Guam here to pick up the crew. We have received unconfirmed reports just now that the American crew members were seen leaving the military guest house, where they have been under -- in Chinese custody for the last several days. They left that guest house, according to unconfirmed reports, sometime ago.

And again, there is plane, -- the plane here to pick them up landed just about three or four minutes ago -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Lisa, tell us the time there on the ground, the local time.

WEAVER: It's 6:00 in the morning, just after 6:00. The plane is scheduled to stay here in Hainan for a couple of hours for refueling. The crew members will board the plane and then it will fly back to Guam. That's the nearest U.S. territory to where we are here in Hainan. That's about a five-hour flight, it took this airplane five hours to get here.

It will go back to Guam. Then from Guam, to Hawaii, to the Pacific Command. That is where the crew members will be debriefed, and where U.S. officials will start putting together a more complete picture based on what the crew members say of exactly what happened now more than a week ago during that collision here over the South China Sea -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Lisa, we want you to stand by if you don't mind. I want to ask Jamie -- when we talk about debriefing, Jamie, what is it that the Pentagon is interested in knowing from these crew members?

MCINTYRE: Well, first of all, even though there are psychologists on the plane, the Pentagon does not believe that the crew has been particularly traumatized. The most traumatic thing they went through was this emergency landing, which came very close to crashing.

But basically, what they wanted to do is interview each one of the crew members, get a full statement from them about exactly what they remember happened, so that the Pentagon can piece together the most accurate scenario possible about what happened.

We do know from the very brief conversations that the crew had with the U.S. diplomats and the U.S. Defense attache there, that they believe that they were clearly in the right here, that the Chinese planes were performing dangerous maneuvers around them. And that the plane -- that this was an accident that was caused by one of the Chinese planes striking essentially the U.S. plane. But they have very few details on that and they hope to iron out that story.

WOODRUFF: Lisa, Lisa Rose Weaver there on Hainan Island. We see of what looks to be the convoy of vehicles moving there in the darkness. Can you tell us what we are seeing? What is happening there, if you can tell?

WEAVER: Well, as far as we can tell, this would appear to be a convoy of several vehicles going to the airplane. You can only assume that the American crew is divide up among in the vehicles in some fashion on their way to this Continental airlines 737 that landed a few moments ago. So, obviously they had run this according to the very tight schedule. And getting them through the planes, not through the normal airport entrance it would appear. And again, as I have said earlier, we are expecting the plane to refuel here, and then take off for Guam in just a couple of hours.

WOODRUFF: Lisa, where are you physically? Are you at the airport? There in Hainan?

WEAVER: Yeah, we have a long view of the civilian airport. We are in a location from which we can see the entire runway, and the terminal building. And that's -- this is the only airport in Hainan, where this -- rather, the only airport in Haikou where this craft could have landed.

There is another one in the middle of town, an older airport with a very short runway which would not have been able to accommodate this aircraft in all likelihood. So, that was certainly part of this -- part of the reasoning for using a civilian airport for making this land -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And Lisa Weaver, why or how far is this commercial charter that has just landed, this airport from the airport where the surveillance plane was -- made its emergency landing 11 days ago?

WEAVER: That's all the way on the other side of the island. That's about a three-hour drive from here. The EP-3 surveillance craft remains on the airfield along the southern coast where -- where it made its emergency landing and then we are on the north part of the island.

And the whole story shifted to the north part of the island really, when the crew members were transported to the provincial capital where U.S. diplomats began arriving in Haikou in numbers to begin this now what turns out to be the 11-day push to secure their release.

The state of the -- of the surveillance plane is not completely clear now. When China, last night, announced the release of the Americans, there was no specific mention of when the United States' plane would be released. There is a meeting scheduled for April 18th where, both the United States and China will talk about a number of issues and you might expect that -- it's at that point that they start talking about when the airplane might be able to leave China -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Lisa, it appears that we are now looking at either buses or large -- or trucks, two of them. Perhaps these are refueling trucks. It's hard to tell because we are seeing images in the darkness there. But clearly, there is some activity about this Continental 737 charter jetliner that has landed there at the northern part of Hainan Island. How much access, Lisa Rose Weaver, have you and the other reporters had there to -- to information?

WEAVER: Well, not a lot, actually. Most of the information has come, if you are talking about the diplomatic process of getting the American crew released, most of the information has come after meetings between general Neal Sealock, the head of the U.S. delegation here to release the Americans, and the crew itself.

The way that it has worked is, he has gone into the meetings with his crew, he has returned, the Chinese saw a representative here by the Hainan foreign affairs' office, made a short statement taking no questions. And then General Sealock has made a short statement, taking no questions.

We understood from the U.S. officials here that -- that they were letting the State Department really run the information for this rather sensitive diplomatic effort. It was very hard to gain an accurate picture of really what was being talked about with the crew members beyond the obvious. Obviously, the U.S. diplomats were very focused on the securing of their release and of reassuring us and the outside world that the crew were in good, physical and mental health.

But beyond that, the gaining the picture of to what degree, they have begun to seize together the picture of how the collision happened, and also to the degree to which the United States was concerned about what the Chinese had been asking the crew -- because the Chinese had their own investigation ongoing and they said that they had questioned the crew. All of that was much more difficult to get a read on -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Let's bring in now our correspondent right now at the State Department, David Ensor.

David, you know, picking up on what Lisa was just saying about the fact that most of the talking here in the United States was coming either from the White House, but primarily out of the State Department. The administration made a deliberate decision, frankly, for there not to be a very high profile from the Pentagon, isn't that correct?

ENSOR: That is right. And I think that you have also seen relatively high degree of restraint in descriptions by U.S. officials today of the letter. They're waiting, they are biding their time. They want to see what we're looking at here. They want to see this process complete, and want to see the people on the plane and that plane taken off.

I think that once you do see it, you may see the U.S. officials become a little bit more outspoken about the letter, defend the letter, defend the position that -- I know from talking to them -- I know that they feel that they did -- that the U.S. did not say that it's very sorry for any kind of error. That it says that it was sorry that the Chinese have lost the pilot, that's a natural human emotion and it says that it's sorry that it entered China's airspace and then landed without verbal clearance.

But you know, that second "very sorry" is in a way very sorry that the Chinese didn't give the U.S. verbal clearance at a time when 24 American lives were at stake. So, I think that you will see a fairly forceful defense of this letter by U.S. officials, more clearly articulated once the process that we are now watching on television here is complete. There's a sense, obviously, from the president on down, that they want to say they're happy that this arrangement has been made, but commenting -- talking about it specifically and making fairly blunt comments about what their view is -- which is, they think that they got a pretty good deal in this letter -- they don't think they gave anything away. They don't think there is an apology in the letter. Those kinds of points will be more forcefully made tomorrow, certainly when this plane's taken off -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. David Ensor and Lisa Weaver and who is in Hainan Island and also Jamie McIntyre. We ask you to stand by.

As you can tell, those of you who are watching this picture, we are getting sort of a grainy look at that 737, the Continental charter plane sitting on the ground at the airport on Hainan Island. We want to change the lens on our camera, literally to give us a better look at the plane. It's about 6:15 in the morning. It's gradually getting lighter as the morning begins there on this southern part of China.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The airplane to pick up 24 crew members detained in Southern China for the last 11 days has landed on Hainan Island. There you see it in the early, early morning light. It is a little after 6:15 in the morning there and the plane just landed about 15 minutes ago.

It is a Boeing 737 Continental airlines charter plane, a commercial plane that is now, we are told, refueling, and after that, it will take the 24 crew members who've been held against their will by the Chinese government for the last 11 days since they made an emergency landing there -- their surveillance airplane, spy airplane made an emergency landing in Hainan Island just 11 days ago.

Reporter Lisa Rose Weaver is there on Hainan at this airport. Lisa, we are getting a slightly better view. We put the zoom lens, I guess, on the camera. We are getting a slightly better look. What can you see?

WEAVER: Yes, as you can see, it's dawn in Hainan. You are looking at the Continental, the charter Continental 737. The craft landed just 20 minutes ago to pick up the crew. It arrived from Guam, once it refuels here for a couple of hours, we are told it will return to Guam with the crew and then head straight back to Hawaii. Hawaii is where the crew members will be debriefed and where the United States officials will put together a more complete picture based on what they say of exactly what happened now, 11 days ago when -- in that incident over the South China Sea.

Now, we understand that there are medical personnel already onboard this aircraft as well as counselors. They will presumably be there in the airplane, ready to help any of the crew members who need it now, we understand, that as of last night anyway, they were still in very good and physical and mental health. They understood the political and diplomatic storm, if you will, that they had -- that they were in the center of. So, hard to say that they would need the attention of medical personnel or counselors, but they are there, we understand, available to them should that be necessary.

WOODRUFF: Lisa Rose Weaver, we are straining to see what we can see because it is still very early morning, still quite dark there. Are you able to tell anymore about the vehicles? A little while ago, we saw what appeared to be a convoy of vehicles moving toward the airport, and you said it was a back entrance, if you will, to the civilian airport. A little while ago, we saw what appeared to be two fuel trucks in the vicinity of the plane. Can you give us a broader picture?

WEAVER: Well, we are not in a position to really say for sure what the small convoy was, on the way into the airport to find a spot from which we are broadcasting this picture to you live. We came across a couple of small vans full of what appeared to be Chinese security. They were under police escort.

So what we can say for certain is this is not a normal departure, so of course there is a fair amount of Chinese security. That may have been the convoy that we saw just a few moments ago. It also may have been the crew itself on its way to the airplane. We are getting unconfirmed reports earlier that the crew had left the military guest house where they'd been held for the last several days.

Officials -- U.S. officials as well as Chinese officials have been very tight-lipped about their movements in the last 12 hours, particularly after China announced that it would release the 24 Americans. It's not been easy at all to keep track of exactly where U.S. officials are, and so far as to what stage of preparations they were to effect this release. What we do know is that things move very fast on the ground once that -- once that announcement came from the Chinese.

The U.S. diplomats here had a certain number of things already in order. They had been preparing for some sort of exit strategy for days. They were not telling us exactly what the exit strategy was. They were considering a number of options so that when the word came that the crew would leave, they put the plan into place really quite quickly.

WOODRUFF: Lisa Rose Weaver, and we're all watching this plane in the very early morning light there on Hainan Island. I will say that the Associated Press is reporting that that convoy that we saw about 10 minutes ago, according to the AP, had earlier left the military guest house where the 24 crew members had been held. So of course, you can speculate about who was in those two minivans and several cars that came to the airport. Of course, it seems likely that it would be the crew, since they are the ones who are going to be getting on the plane, if they haven't already, and taking off.

CNN's Kelly Wallace is at the White House right now.

Kelly, they have been to be watching these pictures with every bit of the interest that we are. WALLACE: Judy, you are absolutely right. They are watching and waiting. I just got off the phone with one U.S. official, asking if the administration could give us any sense of what it knows to be going on right now. This official saying, no, she could not give that information. She did not have it.

They, basically, are watching and waiting. This administration wanting to see those crew members get on that plane and see that Continental jet take off and head to Guam, and then as we know, head to Hawaii. So really. just picking up with David Ensor said earlier, clearly, the administration sort of choosing its words carefully, not saying too much right now. Still viewing this as a delicate situation, watching to see those crew members get on that plane. And then you're likely to hear a little bit more comment coming from this White House.

WOODRUFF: CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, also watching this along with us.

Jamie, what is it that -- we know that General Sealock and others have been able to talk with these crew members on at least, what is it, five different occasions, six different occasions, over the last 11 days. But their conversations have, of necessity, been limited.

MCINTYRE: That's right. In some of the early meetings, the U.S. officials did not have private meetings with the crew. And then later they did have private meetings, but I'm not sure they were entirely convinced the conversations were private. So they really limited some of the questions about what happened during the incident to some of the bare bones.

Question about whether the plane -- they learned the plane was, for instance, on autopilot. They learned that the U.S. pilots believed that it was the Chinese planes that were maneuvering dangerously, and that the U.S. plane was flying on its preprogrammed course.

But now, when they get them on this plane, there are already U.S. military personnel on the plane to start the process of debriefing the crew members, of going through and getting a detailed account from each of them about what happened. Along with medical personnel to make -- to give them a quick once-over, make sure that they're OK, and also psychologists, to provide any counseling, although the Pentagon says they don't believe that this crew is particularly traumatized. They say the conditions under which they were held were quite civilized, akin to hotel accommodations, in a guest house, although their freedom of movement was obviously limited.

And we'll likely hear from the crew at some point tomorrow, when they arrive in Hawaii. There are no plans for the crew to appear in public in Guam, other than to switch from this Continental Airlines 737 charter plane to a U.S. military C-17 plane, to make the trip from Guam to Hawaii, a flight that usually takes about six hours or so.

But in Hawaii we are expecting that the crew will make a brief public appearance. Although Pentagon officials say they'll be very limited in what they say publicly -- particularly the pilot -- about what happened while that is still under investigation and still a bone of contention between the United States and China.

U.S. officials also want to avoid, again, inflaming the situation, as they've had -- tried to keep a low-key tone all week while there is still a question of getting the plane back. That $100 million EP-3 is something that the Pentagon would like to get back. It's supposed to be a subject of a meeting a week from today, in which there is supposed to be a plan drawn up for the quick return of the plane, along with discussions about what was the cause of this accident, and what can be done in the future to make sure that these things don't happen again.

The problem, of course, is that China insists that the way to avoid these kinds of incidents is for U.S. surveillance planes to give wide berth to the Chinese coastline, not to come nearly as close as they have. And of course, the U.S. position is that the way to avoid them is for the distance to be increased between these escort planes and the U.S. planes that they insist are flying perfectly legally in international airspace.

And they are not likely to give an inch on the idea that U.S. planes don't have the right to fly in what is internationally recognized as international airspace. So there will be some interesting discussions in that meeting ahead. While the Pentagon is waiting to see to get the plane back, they're probably going to keep the public statements pretty low-key. We'll probably hear from the crew, that they're glad to be back, that they appreciated all the support, that they were well-cared for, and perhaps just a brief statement about what happened. But no details until the debriefings have been completed by Pentagon officials.

WOODRUFF: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. And as we've been listening to Jamie, we've been watching a couple of things. As it gets closer to 6:30 in the morning there on Hainan Island, we're getting a better look at this airplane. You can clearly see the markings "Continental." You can see the stairs at the front of the plane. You can see what appear to be at least two security people there standing at the foot of the stairs. And for a while, it looked -- now you can see someone coming down the stairs.

But from all that we've been able to tell, we have not seen the crew members all board this plane. Now, we haven't had a very good look the entire time. The plane has been sitting on the ground for about half an hour now, and it may be that they were rushed on as soon as the plane landed.

But if so, we did not -- we were not able to see that, and so we cannot confirm it. So we have to, at least at this point, assume that they are still not on the plane. They are either waiting in vehicles or in a building -- perhaps the airport, waiting to board this plane. The plane is being refueled and once it is refueled, as you have been hearing, it will fly to Guam in the Pacific, about a 4- or 5-hour flight, and then on to Hawaii.

And you've been listening to Jamie McIntyre talk about -- and Lisa Rose Weaver, a reporter who's there on the ground at Hainan Island, talk about what these crew members will be dealing with, and what they'll have available to them, after this plane takes off.

CNN's David Ensor is at the State Department now, where, David, I am assuming the folks at the state are just as interested as the folks at the White House.

ENSOR: Well, I think you can assume the televisions are all on this channel. They usually are, quite frankly, in this building. But yes, they will be watching this just as closely as we are.

As we were saying earlier, there are things they don't want to talk about in much detail until they see that plane taking off. This is the big one. This is getting the American crew members out safely. And once that is dealt with, then there are some other aspects of how this is gone, and the language of the letter, and so on, that they may want to get into.

I'd like to just pick up, if I may -- if I have a moment here, on something that Jamie McIntyre was talking about, which is the EP-3 and the question of surveillance flights along the coast of China. The U.S. position is that those flights are going to continue. I'm sure they are going to continue.

And one of the points that officials make is that they really think the Chinese shouldn't be so deeply opposed to these flights. Given that -- if you take back -- if you look back at the Cold War, it was the transparency of -- first, U2 flights and then of satellites that led to the U.S. and Russia understanding where each other stood, and feeling a little less threatened, a little bit safer.

And a certain amount of transparency about what it is, exactly, China is doing along its coast opposite Taiwan and to the south, it could be argued, is good for everybody. Certainly for Taiwan and China, to know that the Chinese are not massing to attack Taiwan. That's something Taiwan wants to know on a daily basis, and relies on U.S. intelligence aircraft and satellites to tell it.

So it lowers tensions in the area, if the U.S. surveillance aircraft are still flying in international airspace along the coast of China. It's something the U.S. strongly believes it needs to keep doing, and certainly the Japanese and Taiwanese and a lot of others in the neighborhood, want those flights to continue.

WOODRUFF: All right, David Ensor at the State Department today. And David, as you were talking, again, we're watching a little more activity there at the foot of the stairs, leading up to the plane. But again, certainly no confirmation yet that these 24 crew members are on board, or even confirmation that they're at the airport. But some indication that perhaps they were in the convoy of cars we saw moving toward the airport a little while ago, as we continue to watch this picture.

And as you can see, our cameras from quite some distance away, and that's why the picture is not any clearer than it is. But you can see people there at the foot of the stairs. Joining us now on the telephone, CNN State Department correspondent, Andrea Koppel. She is in Paris where she's been traveling with the Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

Andrea, what are they saying there about all this?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, much as we've heard from both David, Jamie, and Kelly, they too are waiting to see the 24 crew members get on that plane and land safely in Guam and then eventually in Hawaii before they get into any kind of specifics.

But there are some State Department officials who are saying that this really is, if in fact this gets off without a hitch, that this really is diplomacy when it works well. We've just witnessed it over the last 11 days, the art of choosing just the right words. And there's a real feeling of satisfaction, and in some instances, joy, to think that they were able to work out the right formula to get those 24 people off the island.

And they also say that 11 days may seem like a terribly long time to those of us watching who are watching this and covering this day by day. But really, when you think about it in terms of the way that the Chinese society and the Chinese culture usually operates, this was almost warp speed. The fact that they were able to get this through the Chinese bureaucracy, and to get the collective leadership to sign off on this language, was really something that they see as a small triumph.

And the language, of course, very important. The fact that the U.S. did not come out accepting any kind of culpability for this, didn't formally apologize. And one might say isn't it splitting hairs when you say that you're "very, very sorry." But that's what diplomacy is all about. It's picking the right words, and that's -- it's legalistic in some ways.

And so, Judy, they're feeling a real sense of satisfaction, kind of, fingers crossed, holding their breath, waiting to see, as the rest of us are, those men and women get on board the plane.

WOODRUFF: Andrea, let me also ask you, as CNN's former Beijing bureau chief, and someone who reported from China for a number of years, someone who speaks fluent Mandarin. Talk for just a moment about the importance to the Chinese that the United States said it was sorry that this plane violated Chinese airspace without clearance.

To many people in the United States, that seemed to be an odd thing, because the plane had to land, it had to land somewhere, or else it was going to crash into the ocean. But explain to us why, perhaps, that was so important to the Chinese?

KOPPEL: Well, really for about 150 years, the Chinese people felt that they lived through a period of tremendous humiliation where they had foreign countries, foreign powers, who were occupying their country. And they, in the last, let's say, 50 years, really, just since the communist revolution there, had been gradually -- sort of in a very slow, painstaking way, rebuilding that confidence and that sense of national pride that they had lost for so many years.

And if many people remember back to the hand-over of Hong Kong in 1997, that was a huge point of pride for Chinese people, to get back a piece of land that they felt had been taken from them by the British. And in this case, Judy, this is -- China has a real chip on its shoulder, as far as being -- it's the largest, most populous country in the world. But it's tremendously poor, and in many parts of the countryside, tremendously backwards. And yet. at the same time, it's a country that has grown by leaps and strides over the last 20 years, since the opening and reform began there.

And so there's sort of this tug-of-war going on within the leadership. On the one hand, wanting to be treated like a great power but then on the other hand, recognizing that in comparison with the United States, it isn't.

And so that's a rather long winded way of answering your question, but the fact that you would have the United States able to run these spy planes, these surveillance flights nearby -- and obviously has the technology to do it and the Chinese do not -- was something that was embarrassing to them.

And when they had this plane, literally sort of land in their laps, there was quite a bit of -- we saw it ourselves -- they didn't know what to do with it. And we've heard Jamie mention, and David, and others, that they've begun to take apart the plane as they try to learn what they can about the technology there.

So it's, Judy, it's really -- it's many, many years of feeling like you're the underdog, and wanting to be seen as a great power, certainly, in Asia, and knowing that the United States is the sole superpower and also throws its weight around in Asia quite a bit.

WOODRUFF: I asked Andrea Koppel that question because not only is she the CNN State Department right now, she's in Paris, where she's covering Secretary of State Colin Powell. But she also was, for a number of years, CNN's Beijing bureau chief. She was -- spent a number of years reporting on China for CNN.

And, Andrea, I just would follow up on what you said about how embarrassing it is for the Chinese. I think for many in the United States, that's a difficult concept to understand, that they would be embarrassed,because I think many people in the United States assume they do the same thing. But you're saying in fact that's not the case.

KOPPEL: Well, you know, I think it's the fact that you have -- you have a culture, a society, that invented gun powder, invented paper, the printing press. And is today a country that is sort of standing between the -- in some instances, the 19th century, and in others, the 21st century.

You have kids that regularly operate -- are on the Web, surfing the Web, and can program computers better than most. And then you have peasants, millions of them, living without plumbing. And they're raising chickens and, if they're lucky, some sheep and hogs, and have hardly any money whatsoever. And so there's this real concern within the Chinese leadership that they need to maintain stability and that they want to bring the entire country into the 21st century.

And by having a plane like this land in its lap, gave them a rare bit of leverage over the world's most powerful country. And I'm sure that there was a lot of arguing going on behind closed doors amongst those, certainly within the People's Liberation Army, who said: "Why should we give this plane back? Why should we hand over these people? And certainly, there were others within the foreign ministry, cooler heads prevailed, and they appear to have won the argument at least for now.

WOODRUFF: All right. Andrea Koppel, as we said, traveling with Secretary of State Colin Powell. She's in Paris. As we continue to closely watch the activity outside this Continental jet on the ground at Hainan Island in Southern China looking for any signs that these crew members may have arrived and are about to board.

We've seen activity; people running up and down the stairs. But no clear indication yet that the 24 crew members from that surveillance plane may be on board. We're going to take another break. We want to get a better look with another lens on our camera; you'll want to look at that, so stay tuned, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: For the last 45 minutes, this plane has been sitting on the ground on Hainan Island in Southern China awaiting to take the 24 crew members from the U.S. spy plane surveillance plane that was forced to make an emergency landing in Hainan Island on April 1st, 11 days ago. The plane is a surveillance plane, a jet, a 737, and as you could see, we keep changing the lenses on this camera. And I've been asking our technical wizards here at CNN, what this camera is.

All I could tell you so far, is that it's a video phone. We started out with fairly distant shots; it's still dark. It was 6:00 in the morning when the plane first landed. It's now a quarter of 7:00 there on the ground local time at Hainan Island. Haikou is the city where this airport is.

You could see the fuel trucks. This is the second fuel truck we've seen in the background. We don't know whether those the trucks have been refueling the plane. We do know that it needed to be refueled before it could take off and make the flight back to Guam in the South Pacific where these 24 reconnaissance plane crew members are scheduled to go.

CNN's Lisa Rose Weaver has been talking to us from the scene there. Lisa Rose, tell us where you are right now in relation to where the plane is at the airport?

WEAVER: Well, we are on an embankment that allows us a view of the entire airport. We're not within the airport ground. There's a lot of security there. And we thought it would probably be a good idea to get to a place where we can bring you pictures without being bothered by security. We're looking at pretty much the entire runway of Haikou's airport.

The plane, you see, has been on the ground for about 15 minutes. We understand due to refuel and prepare to take off within -- within the hour to return to Guam and then on to Hawaii. We don't know exactly where the crew members are at the moment. As you have noted, there is a lot of activity around the airplane. Really, almost as soon as it landed. All the pieces began to fall in with refueling trucks arriving, a couple of convoys presumably, Chinese security, and somewhere in there, the crew, which, given the fact that the plane has already been on the ground for nearly an hour, in all likelihood is somewhere in the vicinity.

WOODRUFF: Lisa Rose Weaver there describing where she is. She said they're not allowed to get on the ground, on the property at the airport. So they're sitting on an embankment watching from some distance.

I can tell you, the camera that we're using is one of our regular video camera. But it's hooked up to what's called a digital encryption device and from that, the pictures are sent down a telephone line. So these are digital pictures. This is not normally the way television pictures are transmitted these days. We send them by satellite. They go through the air and don't ask me to explain that. These pictures are transmit the by a telephone line and these are digital pictures. Therefore, there's a slight graininess in what we're seeing.

But I have to say, they're remarkably clear, compared to what we had when the plane first landed. It was dark and the camera was focused at a much greater distance to get the plane landing when it came in from Guam.

We're continuing to watch very, very closely as we see the personnel there at the bottom of the steps. People coming and going. You can see what appears to be a man standing there at the door of the airplane with a white shirt, perhaps a crew member for Continental. We can only guess at this point. We will have to surmise, based on what we're looking at. We don't know yet whether those 24 crew members are any of the people around the plane or any of them have actually boarded the plane at this point.

CNN's Martin Savidge is in Hawaii, which is the place where the crew members will be after they take off from China, stop in Guam and then on to Hawaii. Martin, tell us a little about what will happen to the crew once they land in Hawaii and when are they expected to get there?

SAVIDGE: Well, the time frame is not exactly clear at this particular point. As one Navy official pointed out to me, there are still a lot of things that could technically interact here and delay things, not necessarily in China but in other places around the route. So, we don't have a clear time frame as to when to expect them here in Hawaii specifically in Hickam Air Force Base.

However, we do know that when they get here, that they're planning for a low-key arrival. They're not planning to have any massive ceremony here. This is not supposed to be some grand or glorious welcome home. This is the interim, the intermediate point for their journey as they make their way back to Whidbey Island in Washington state, which is where the aircraft is based out of.

So, they are setting up some risers, they have fenced off a portion here for the media. But, other than that, there is no major plan expected. When the plane arrives, it will be a short ceremony, there maybe some music from a military band. It's expected that there will be some high ranking officers that will greet the crew members as they step off the aircraft. And there may be some words that are spoken.

But then, after that, the crew will be quickly whisked away and begin the three days of debriefing. That's exactly the way the Navy is describing it: three days of debriefing. This is the first chance they have had to thoroughly talk to the crew. They want to find out exactly what happened up in the air. At the time of the collision and at the ground after the plane made its emergency landing in China.

At the same time, they'll also be undergoing medical examinations. We know that the crew is reported to be in good health. It's simply a precautionary thing; they want to make sure. On top of that, they wanted to make sure the crew members had a little bit of mental breathing room. Somebody described it as an emotional decompression, before they went racing back into the arms of their loved ones in the tumultuous reception that they're expected to get when they get to Whidbey Island.

So, in a nutshell, for the next three or four days, that's what they will be about here, and it will begin as soon as the aircraft gets here. But as we mentioned at the start here, nobody knows exactly when that will be -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Martin Savidge reporting from Hawaii and we see a little more activity there at this Continental charter jet. They're on the ground at Haikou in Hainan Island. This is the other end, this is the northern end of the island where the U.S. spy plane was forced to make an emergency landing 11 days ago on the April the 1st. Some people running now. Maybe we're getting closer to the crew members actually boarding this aircraft. We're going to take a short break, continue to keep...

...Wait just a minute. We were going to take a break. But now we see what looks like a group of mini vans, mini vans and other vehicles coming up. This could be the crew members and we don't want to take our eyes off of it, if it is. They seem to be pulling right up to the place at the foot of the plane.

Lisa Rose Weaver there on the ground in Haikou, what do you see?

WEAVER: Judy, pretty much what you do. We saw several mini vans vehicles driving up to the plane, closer to plane than almost any vehicles we've seen. There's a couple of police cars, Chinese police cars as well just sort of on patrol. It is hard to see from here, if people -- it appears nobody is yet ascending the stairs. There are people standing at the base of the airport. There have been people there for the last 40 minutes or so. So it could very well be that the crew is in the vehicle which just pulled up.

And when we see people going up those stairs that will be a pretty good indication that the crew has arrived and is boarding the plane. But at this point, we -- I see some movement on the ground, but I don't see people going up those stairs just yet -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Now, Lisa, I don't know whether you're seeing the same angle we are. But yes, it looks like a cluster of people. You can't tell, 15, 20, perhaps more, they are standing around, milling around there at the bottom of the stairs that do lead to the door of the airplane.

In the meantime, we've now seen two of those airport van-looking vehicles pulling up. Perhaps, these are the vehicles that are carrying the crew members. We're in a position we're so far away and we don't have any information coming to us from the Chinese government from Chinese officials on the ground. We're literally having to guess and surmise every step of the way as to what's going on.

Just a moment ago, we saw three mini vans pull up. We saw some people get out at least one of those, perhaps two of those. Now we're seeing those larger vans, the type you see at airports, that take people from one place to another, terminal to another, pull up and perhaps more people -- it's hard to say.

But again, as Lisa Rose Weaver was just saying, so far, we haven't seen any more people or we haven't seen a collection of people climb the stairs and actually get on this plane, which is what everyone is watching for. You see a little more activity there, it appears to be a camera flash going off every few seconds. It would be logical that some people are taking pictures at this stage.

There appear to be Chinese military, you see some people in uniform. There do appear to be military officers there as part of the group. But also some people who are not officers. One or two gentlemen wearing a white shirt. So far, it appears to be mostly men. We know of the 24 crew members on that U.S. reconnaissance plane, 21 of them were men, 3 were women. All of them based at Whidbey Island in Washington state, but this plane had taken off from Okinawa, Japan.

Here's another picture. This picture taken from one of the meetings that the crew members had with U.S. military officials.

Again, this is the airplane on the ground on Hainan island in Haikou Airport. This is the northern part of Hainan Island. The other end of the island from where the U.S. surveillance plane was forced to make an emergency landing 11 days ago.

Seeing some people run up the stairs just a moment ago. But the mass of these people remain at the bottom of the stairs, milling around, talking to one another. We've seen some pictures -- what appear to be pictures taken, because we've seen camera flashes going off. It's about just before 7:00 in the morning. They're in this island south of China, the mainland China. It looks as if -- it looks as if no group movement, any way, to get in the airplane yet. CNN's Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon. Jamie, you've been talking to folks regularly there. Do they have any more information about when the plane is going to take off?

MCINTYRE: Well, so far it seems to be going according to what the Pentagon expected. They said the plane would land about 6:00 a.m. local time there at the airport at Haikou and that's about exactly when it landed. They said it will probably take between an hour and 1/2 and two hours on the ground to refuel the plane and load up the crew. We're just approaching, coming up on an hour now.

It does appear that the plane was successfully refueled. We saw the refueling trucks come up, and then, it looked like one of them at least departed from the scene. So, the aircraft may be refueled at this point. The flight back from here to Guam is suppose to take another five hours and they're estimating about midnight Eastern time, the plane will probably touchdown on U.S. soil at Andersen Air Force Base.

At this point, Pentagon officials are holding their breath. They're not saying anything, they're trying not to make any comments. They just want to make sure this part, this very part of the end game here comes off as they expect with the crew being loaded up and taken off. Again, Judy, this plane brought with it some people, it brought some U.S. military personnel, some psychologist -- military psychologist, some medical personnel to give the crew a check-over on the plane.

And some of the people who will begin the initial debriefing process as they go through and catalog from each crew member their exact recollection of what happened on the plane. Of course, of particular interests will be interviews with the pilots who were flying the plane to get their account about what happened.

But Pentagon officials tell us that, although you should expect to see at least some of the crew members in public perhaps speaking when they get to Hawaii at Hickam Air Force Base sometime tomorrow, that their public comments will probably be very limited because the debriefing process is going to go on for a couple of days. U.S. officials want to make sure they have the full story from all of them.

Plus, again, the U.S. position is to keep this pretty much a low- key event. Holding out hope that perhaps the U.S. will be able to get 100 million dollar EP-3 Aries surveillance plane, which is still on the ground in the military air strip in the Lingshui Military Air Base, which is south here in Haikou. The Chinese have indicated that they will, perhaps, return that plane. At least, they agreed in a letter which they said they will draw up a plan in a meeting a week from today for the quick return of the plane.

It's not at all clear how they'll get the plane back because it is very severely damage. The more we learned from the -- the more we learn from the crew members in this brief conversations they had, the more the Pentagon was able to determine that this plane was severely damaged. Two of the engines don't work. One of the engines, after the collision, was -- one of the propellers was turning, but not providing any thrust. Another one was not connected to the dry shaft anymore and it was just what they call pinwheeling.

So, there were two engines. The number one and the number three engines were not working. Also, the flaps of the plane were damaged.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, it appears to be that there are a group of people going up, and we can only surmise, but I would have to say, that it's a good chance that those are the crew members -- the 24 crew members, because we see a succession of people. I haven't been able to count. It -- perhaps that is one part of the 24 who just moved up in a group.

But again, this is only a guess, only a surmisal on our part. We are too far away because of this camera and the distance that we are required to keep from this airplane. They do all appear, those going up the plane, appear to be wearing a green fatigue-type garb, perhaps they're wearing the same type thing. I don't know whether that's what they would have been wearing when they were on the surveillance plane or not.

But I would say by now we might have seen 20, 24 people go up, but I was not able to count. Perhaps somebody else has a quicker eye than I do.

Jamie, refresh us, if you will and we see one more crew member going up now. Jamie, refresh us, if you will, on what the positions were that these crew members had on the plane. What were they doing? I mean, besides the pilot and the people involved in flying the EP-3, what were the other people doing on that plane?

MCINTYRE: Well, Judy, let me just comment first to say that it appeared that the crew members, if those were in fact the crew members, which we have every reason to believe they were, were, in fact, wearing their flight suits, which are the standard, sort of a one-piece green jumpsuit, which is what they would normally be wearing on the plane while they're conducting their mission.

Interestingly, I think that -- is it's hard to tell from this picture, but U.S. officials reported that they didn't have patches on their jumpsuit. These flight suits are designed so that the patches are attached with velcro and can be removed. So, just one more sanitizing procedure that's done before the plane completes its emergency landing so that there's no other identifying marks on the uniform.

But that said, this crew was the crew of an electronics surveillance plane. They listened to all kinds signals. Three of the people are pilots, and they are responsible for flying the plane, and the rest of the crew, essentially in the back, as they. are stationed at various positions around the plane to use different devices to monitor transmissions.

And this is what's called signals intelligence or SIGINT, as they call it at the Pentagon. They're trying to listen to voice communication, to the frequencies of radar. To some extent, they also stimulate those radars. When the plane comes by and they're picked up by radar, they can tell how the Chinese -- how soon they're detected, how the Chinese react to it, and that all provides valuable intelligence information.

In addition, they're looking for anything that would be of interest to the United States: new Chinese military capabilities, new ships, submarines, the positioning of missiles along the coast. China has been, in recent years, positioned more missiles in a threatening manner that might be seen as a threat to Taiwan.

So, that's what this crew was carrying out, and the U.S. says that they were doing this in international airspace, well beyond the 12-mile limit recognized in international law, and that they have a right to do this. In fact, that any country could also do this along the U.S. coast if they had the capability. Most countries, however, do not.

WOODRUFF: Most countries don't have the capability?

MCINTYRE: That's right. I mean, the U.S. has probably some of the most sophisticated eavesdropping and surveillance equipment in the world. This is something that the Soviet Union used to do during the Cold War. It would conduct surveillance like this, and the Chinese also do a limited amount of intelligence gathering, mostly using ships, listening from ships outside the international in international waters. But they don't have the same capability to fly up and down the U.S. coast, and that's one of the reasons why the Chinese are a bit annoyed about the way the U.S. has them under surveillance.

WOODRUFF: All right, we've been talking with Jaime McIntyre at the Pentagon, and as Jamie and I were speaking just a moment ago, we saw what appeared to be a -- could have been a couple of dozen crew members, U.S. crew members from the spy plane that was forced to land in China 11 days ago. Again, we are far enough away, we cannot absolutely confirm to you that that's who they were, but there were enough of them and as you heard Jaime say, the green uniform, green garb they had on is consistent with the uniform that the crew would have been wearing on the plane that had to land on Hainan Island, the EP-3.

CNN reporter Lisa Rose Weaver, you were there on the ground. You got a closer look than we do.

WEAVER: Yes, well, actually the videophone gave me a better look than my own naked eye. It's an amazing technology. I stepped just a couple steps away to the trucks which we're operating from to look at our monitor, and I could see on the monitor more clearly the people in the lighter green uniforms boarding the plane.

The color of the uniforms is distinctly lighter than the Chinese military people in darker, olive green, and we have not -- well, we have certainly not seen a group of them boarding the plane, in any care. There have been some individuals going up and down in preparation. So, I think it's quite safe to say that the crew is on board at this point. The plane has been on the ground for just more than an hour, and it was due to then fly back to Guam about one hour from now after refueling and safety checks on the airplane.

So, we will be watching here until it takes off -- Judy. WOODRUFF: And again, Lisa Rose Weaver clarifying for us earlier this airport, this is a civilian airport in Haikou, which is, what, the provincial capital of Hainan Island and it is, and you can see on this map here, this airport at the northern end of that island, Hainan Island, where the U.S. spy plane, surveillance plane had to make an emergency landing 11 days ago. The EP-3 was at the southern end of the island. That plane still sits on the runway as far as we know.

And the crew members -- we're watching someone else go up the steps and almost trip -- or he did trip as he was going up. These crew members were brought up to Haikou, and this is the place where have been detained at what's been called a military guest house for the last 10, 11 days since their plane came down.

We've been watching as a crowd of people have been gathered there at the base -- or the foot of the stairway that leads up to this Continental civilian charter jet. The Chinese wanted a civilian plane, not a military plane, to come and pick up these 24 crew members. That had to be -- we didn't see anybody visibly celebrating or raising their arms in a sense of excitement or a sense of excitement or celebration, but you have to know as those people climbed on the plane, they had to feel an enormous sense of relief.

We know that the plane had to be refueled, and we watched as a couple of fuel trucks came up and pulled away. So, we have to assume now the plane has been refueled. The crew members evidently are on board. So, it may be just a matter of minutes before this plane prepares to pull away and to take off.

We were originally told it would be on the ground two hours, an hour and a half. It's now been on the ground -- it's a little after 7:00 in the morning on Hainan Island in Southern China. It's about 7:07 in the morning, 12 hours ahead of Eastern time in the United States where we are.

You're watching as many of the people who were there at the foot of the stairs milling around as the crew member -- crew members climbed the stairs.

Now, you're seeing, the door has closed, and the stairs are being pulled away from the 737. So, we are looking, presumably, at an imminent departure.

CNN's David Ensor is at the State Department in Washington.

ENSOR: Judy, I was just talking to an official upstairs in this building a moment ago, and he said the State Department operations center had been in touch with their people there at the airport about 10 minutes ago, and the officials said that the crew were at that point, just finishing -- just finished with handling the sort of exit paper matters. I don't know exactly what exit papers were involved, but signing the transfer document or whatever, and that the process was either completed or about to be completed.

So, that would seem to jive with the pictures we're seeing here, and it would suggest, as we've been reporting, that the crew has completed those procedures and gotten on the plane and that they'll be taking off soon -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: That's David Ensor at the State Department in Washington. Lisa Rose Weaver, you are at the airport there. Now, how many other planes are in the vicinity of this Continental jet?

WEAVER: Well, the Continental jet is by itself in what appears to be another section of the airport. The main commercial part is off camera. I don't think you can see it. There, there are several airplanes. They're been there since we arrived. No other airplanes have landed since we've been here. This one is separate from the main terminal of the airport.

We saw that there was a fair amount of security, Chinese security following the convoy. You know, this involves the Chinese military. Presumably, it's the military which is, if you will, handing over the 24 Americans, allowing them to leave. So, we would expect that there would be a lot of security.

That is why we are where we are, so that we're able at least to maintain a good view of this and not be forced to move on. Now, we've just seen the door of the airplane close, the ladder being pulled away. We're expecting to see the airplane begin its taxi toward the runway any moment. This now the end of 11 days of diplomatic effort at a lot of levels Beijing, Washington and here in Hainan toward the release of these Americans -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: This plane took 5 1/2 hours to get to Hainan Island from Guam. It'll presumably be about the same distance, give or take some, to bring the crew members back -- well, not back, but Guam and from there the fly or perhaps another plane will fly them on to Hawaii, where they will spend time being, certainly, checked over by medical personnel, make sure that they are in good health, although we've been told by the U.S. officials who've been meeting with them over the last 10 or 11 that they appear to be in good health. They say they have been treated well. They say they are feeling fine. But of course, the U.S. will want to verify that as the best it can.

You can see, the picture tells the story here. This plane landed an hour and 10 minutes ago, approximately. It's been sitting on the ground at this civilian airport in Northern Hainan Island, the provincial capital of Haikou. We watched as the plane sat there a while. Then, as the light came on, as the day began and we could see a little better, we saw -- just a few moments ago, we saw minivans and then other, larger airport-type vans pull up and finally, we saw what appeared to be a few dozen people dressed in military uniforms, U.S. military garb, what they would have been wearing as they were crew on the U.S. spy plane, climb the stairs, get on the plane. We saw the door close and now this plane about ready to leave.

This is the picture -- this is what it looked like a few minutes ago when the crew, it was just about 15 after -- no, that's the time now. This is what it looked like when the crew, what appeared to be the U.S. crew climbed on board this plane.

CNN's Jaime McIntyre is at the Pentagon. MCINTYRE: Well, that's right. We see here the crew members, who are wearing their flight suits, their one-piece, green flight suits; the normal attire for wearing while you're conducting one of these surveillance mission, boarding the steps, getting on the Continental Airlines charter jet for the flight back to Guam.

This whole transfer procedure is going just about as the Pentagon had expected. The plane landed right on the dot of 6:00, right when it was expected to land at the Haikou -- the international airport at Haikou on the northern part of Hainan Island, and after dispensing with some of the paperwork that had to be done, the crew boarded the plane. You could see them going up the steps. Now, the steps have already been pushed away and the plane is sealed up, and it just remains for it to take off.

Pentagon officials say that they're not going to say much about this until they're absolutely sure that the plane is clear of Chinese airspace, that it's been able to take off, that the crew members are, in fact, on their way back to U.S. soil at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. But so far, this has been going precisely according to schedule.

WOODRUFF: U.S. officials have refrained, certainly, the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department have refrained from calling these crew members hostages, although there are members of Congress, particularly long-time Republican Congressman Henry Hyde and other conservative Republicans who have used that word.

The administration has asked privately that they be called detainees. Whatever you call them, they are on their way off of Chinese soil. Not yet, but they're moving in that direction. The plane appears to be backing up, getting into a position where it can taxi on its own. Perhaps, it's being pulled at this. We're only looking at the front part of the plane.

This is the civilian airport in Haikou on Hainan Island, Haikou being the provincial capital of this Chinese province called -- it is called Hainan Island. It is the province of Hainan.

Lisa Rose Weaver, you are there at the airport.

WEAVER: Yes, well, the plane, as you say, is backing up. It's pretty amazing, really, how quickly this departure has come together. It was just more than 12 hours ago when the Chinese government announced through Beijing, through the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, that the 24 crew members will be released, and now, the next morning, here they are on the airplane, which is about to taxi.

So, work was done very quickly by the U.S. diplomats who have been on the ground here for more than a week pressing for the release of the American crew, were very busy arranging these last-minute details to ensure that this could happen, and this could happen very quickly.

Now, although the Americans are about to leave Chinese soil, in a sense, the impasse between China and the United States is not completely over. Chinese President Jiang Zemin was speaking from Uruguay yesterday, saying he hopes the U.S. side will, quote, "adopt a serious attitude," end quote, to this incident.

The Chinese tone has shifted in the last few days from insisting the U.S. accept complete responsibility and that the U.S. is to blame for the incident, shifting now to, OK, deal with this seriously. The two sides, China and the U.S., are due to meet on April 18th, and there we expect that the issue of the EP-3 surveillance craft and when it will be released back to the United States, that that issue will come up at that meeting.

And China is expected to bring up the issue of U.S. surveillance flights. That is, of course, how this all began. This was a U.S. surveillance flight in the South China Sea. That's been a major concern on the part of the China's military for a long time. That concern crystallized dramatically when the collision occurred, and so this entire incident will have given China an opportunity to bring forth that issue at the upcoming meeting -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: That's Lisa Rose Weaver speaking to us from the airport on Hainan Island.

Jaime McIntyre at the Pentagon.

MCINTYRE: Well, it does look like this Continental Airlines plane has been pushed back and is getting ready to take off. Pentagon officials tell us that the trip back from Hainan Island to Guam will take a little less time than the trip over. There were some strong head winds on the way over that caused it to be about a 5 1/2 hour night. They anticipate once this plane gets off the ground, it'll be about 4 1/2 hours before it touches down in Guam. That would put its arrival in Guam at just right about midnight Eastern time, assuming it takes off in the next 10 minutes or so, which it looks like it is preparing to do.

And as for the question of whether these detainees were detainees or hostages or as somebody called them here, accidental tourists, the Pentagon says that the reason that they would classify them as detainees is that they had some access to them, and that they were generally well-treated. They said that's not usually the case with hostages.

But it was getting dangerously close to the point where more and more people were beginning to think of them as hostages, and U.S. officials believe it was fortuitous that the resolution of this standoff came when it did, before it began to degenerate to a point where people were really getting angry and more and more people were calling them hostages.

You see the plane moving now.

WOODRUFF: That's right. As we listen to Jaime McIntyre, who's all the way over in Washington at the Pentagon, we're watching this charter plane, a civilian charter, Continental Airlines 737, moving from the place where it picked up what appeared to be the 24 crew members from the American spy plane, and is turning so that it can get into a position to take off.

And you just heard Jaime say this flight from Hainan Island, Southern China is expected to take about something less than five hours or so on the way to Guam. There, the crew members will, I believe, be transferred to another plane. Jaime, is that right. They'll go to another plane for the flight to Hawaii?

MCINTYRE: That's right. That's right, Judy. They'll transfer to a C-17, on of the U.S. state-of-the-art cargo transport planes for the flight, which will take about six hours or so from Guam to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, arriving sometime tomorrow morning Hawaii during the daylight hours there.

So, they are expecting to complete that transfer from this plane to a U.S. military plane. Again, a U.S. military plane was not sent to pick them up because the Chinese requested -- of the agreement called for a civilian airliner to come pick them up, not a U.S. military transport.

WOODRUFF: It appears to be, so far, nothing is delaying the departure of this plane. It did is sit in a position there for a while as it was refueled and then as the crew members climbed on board. But now, it seems to be moving without delay to a position where it can take off and leave Chinese soil.

These crew members came to China -- you have to say when their plane landed, I'm sure they all wondered whether they were going to survive because the surveillance plane, the EP-3 was damaged severely, Jamie, and all of them had to see their life flash in front of their eyes.

MCINTYRE: Yes, we started to talk a little about to some of that damage to the plane, and each time they met with some of the crew members, they learned a little bit more about how damaged it was. I mentioned before, too, the engines weren't working, two of the four engines. But the pilot also had very limited control of some of the basic controls. The ailerons, which help steer the plane, were -- one of them had a hole in it. The other one, the bolts were loose on it. The pilot wasn't sure whether they would work at all or if he tried to use them, whether the plane would lurch to one side or the other.

The elevators, which are the movable flaps on the tail, got wrapped around one of the a sophisticated antennas, and they weren't working either. That controls the up and down movement of the plane. And the pilot was also working without an air speed indicator, indicating how fast he was going, and several other instruments weren't working as well at all. So, landing a plane like that under those circumstances is very difficult, and -- go ahead, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jaime, I was just going to say, we're watching the plane as it taxis into a position where it can takes off we're seeing that flash of yellow light at the belly of the plane. I'm assuming that's normal, but I don't remember seeing that on other planes. Can somebody help me with what that is. Lisa Rose Weaver is on the -- or Jaime, can you tell me? MCINTYRE: I think what we're seeing there is -- this is a combination. There's a blinking light on the bottom of the plane. Normally, it doesn't look that dramatic, but because we're seeing this through the videophone technology, which has a compressed digital image, it's magnifying the effect of that flash.

But you can see that the -- it's basically a beacon on the bottom of the plane which helps identify it, and it just looks more dramatic, I believe in this picture. It looks almost like a flash of fire there, you just saw it again. But I think what we're simply seeing is a visual effect from that blinking light on the bottom of the plane.

WOODRUFF: Well, that's why I mentioned it, and I want to tell our audience again, this videophone that allows us to see these pictures, this is not conventional television picture transmission. We have a video camera there, but this camera is hooked up to what's called a digital encryption device, and what comes out of that is sent down a regular telephone line. So, these are television pictures through a telephone line. It's the reason they look a little grainy, but nevertheless, we're glad to have them because it's the only way we could bring you these pictures from Hainan Island.

Lisa Rose Weaver is there at the airport -- Lisa Rose.

WEAVER: Yes, well, we expect the plane to take off really any moment now. It is -- we're not sure from which direction, perhaps back in our direction. It's got to turn around and pick up speed. It must have been, for the crew members, an amazing journey. We can't imagine really what they're thinking at this moment. But 11 days ago, they crash landed in China on a military surveillance craft that was amazing that they could land it. Now, they are taking off in a civilian 737, back to Guam and then to Hawaii.

Most during -- during most of this time, they have been able to get word from their friends and family via printed e-mail messages. Fortunately for them, they have been in good physical and mental health from what has been reported to us. But certainly, they're going to be, as you said, Judy, extremely relieved to put this behind them and to leave -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: I think it's fair to say, we can all speculate about what the crew members will be doing when that plane actually takes off from Chinese soil, but also then beyond that, leaves Chinese airspace, which is a different moment. It's 12 -- what is it, 12 miles, Jaime McIntyre, before they technically reach international airspace after they leave Hainan Island?

MCINTYRE: That's right, Judy. It's about 12 miles, but, of course, the Chinese have extended claims into the South China Sea and a lot of claims on the ground, the international waters. They claim that they have jurisdiction over some of those islands out there, but that is part of the dispute, although China backed down from its claim that this incident took place in Chinese airspace, and simply said that the U.S. plane violated Chinese airspace when it made that emergency landing. But technically, when it gets about 12 miles offshore, it will be out of Chinese airspace into international airspace.

WOODRUFF: Well, it has been -- just to say right now, it's about 7:25, 7:30 in the morning in Southern China where this plane carrying the U.S. crew members is just about to take off, and we think the plane is about to reach the end of a taxi way, at which point it will turn and then we'll know what runway it's going to be on and where it's going to take off.

It's has been an extraordinary experience for these 24 Americans who landed that Navy EP-3E on Hainan after a collision, midair collision with a Chinese fighter jet on April 1st, a collision that led the death, evidently, of a Chinese pilot. His plane crashed into the ocean. He has not been found. This plane, -- their plane, however, not this plane, but their plane, a very different airplane, landed at the southern part of Hainan Island.

CNN's David Ensor is at the State Department as we watch, at least for a moment, this commercial plane round a corner and we can't see it anymore -- David.

ENSOR: Yes, just a couple of things, Judy. One, I gather from State Department officials that Ted Gong, who is the senior consular officer who has been dealing with this; he is one of the two American officials besides General Sealock has been at all the meetings with the crew members. He is confirming to the State Department now that all 24 Americans are on that Continental jet. He watched them go on. he counted them. He counted the documents. He is personally confirming that all the Americans are on that plane.

That's point one. Point two, U.S. officials are telling me that their estimate is that the plane will leave Chinese airspace approximately a quarter of an hour, 15 minutes roughly, after it takes off -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, David Ensor, that's consistent, I think, with what we've been talking about the last few minutes. We were talking about the 12 miles before you reach international water. Here comes the plane taking off. This is the plane carrying 24 U.S. crew members from the Navy surveillance plane forced to land in China 11 days ago. This plane carrying them, it's a civilian aircraft, and they have now taken off from Chinese soil. They are on their way to Guam and from there to Hawaii and back to the United States.

If I had to guess, there may be some high-fives on that airplane right now, even though as we just heard David Ensor say, it'll be another 10, 15 minutes before they're technically out of Chinese airspace, they have to be celebrating in some way among themselves.

Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

MCINTYRE: Well, Pentagon officials now updating us on what they believe will be the travel schedule for this plane. They say it should take 4 1/2 hours from now, for this plane to make it to Andersen on Guam. That's a little shorter than the flight over from Guam because of favorable winds that were against them on the flight over. So,that puts it into Guam at somewhere around midnight, Eastern time.

And then there will be a time for the crew to transfer to a U.S. Military plane. A little bit of down time on the ground, but officials are not planning any sort of ceremony or public appearance there. And then the plane, the U.S. Air Force C-17 will take the crew the rest of the way from Guam to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and now were saying that Pentagon officials are telling us that they think it is about eight hours for that flight from Guam to Hickam, and would expect their arrival to be about 6:30 a.m., local time in Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

So again, the plane will be carrying the 24 crew members of EP-3, has taken off from the island and is en route to Guam and will be back on U.S. soil in just about 4 1/2 hours -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: That's right, Jamie. We just watched that plane take off. We are going to take a break and will be back with more live coverage of the release of the 24 American crew members.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: This was the picture just about six-seven minutes ago in Hainin Island, China; 24 U.S. crew members from the spy plane forced to make a landing on that island 11 days ago. They are now free of Chinese soil. They are on a Boeing 737, a Continental Airlines charter plane on their way to Guam. From there they will go on to Hawaii, and then on to the United States. This happened just five, six minutes ago.

Joining us on the ground now at Haikou, the provincial capital of Hainan Island, CNN's Lisa Rose Weaver. Lisa Rose, you watched this whole thing unfold.

Are you able to hear me right now? Can't tell whether she's -- we can see you.

WEAVER: Yes. The plane carrying the 24 Americans just took off some five minutes ago just at about the time that it was leaving the runway, Chinese police and security began to move in. They are very aware that we are here. They have done nothing to far to force us to leave.

We are among a few journalists at the same location overlooking the airport runway. As I said the police security have moved in. They are calling for reinforcements to come and presumably they will try to move us away. It has taken them this long to respond to the fact that we are here, so the timing has been pretty good.

We are able to bring you live pictures of the plane's departure. In the meantime, we will just wait and see what happens here. The plane has left. It flew away more than five minutes ago carrying all 24 American crew members on it.

WOODRUFF: Lisa Weaver there on the ground at the airport in Haikou, the provincial capital of Hainan Island. I have to say good work and to the crew working with you manning this videophone, this digital camera that brings us the picture through telephone lines. It's a new technology to some of us. We're just looking at the route that this plane is going to take, at least that the crew will be taking, all 24 off of them. They're now off Chinese soil. They're on their way to Guam.

I believe it was Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie, are you able to hear me?

MCINTYRE: Yes, I do, Judy.

WOODRUFF: You said it's about 15 minutes before they are technically out of Chinese airspace, is that correct?

MCINTYRE: Well, actually, CNN's David Ensor reported that from a State Department official, but I believe that's absolutely right. It's about 12 miles, and they need to get off, get some altitude and they should be out of Chinese airspace very quickly.

I should point out when we look at that map of the three hops that the crew will be taking first from Hainin Island to Guam, then to Hawaii. And then you see the arrow indicates the home base of Whidbey Island in the state of Washington. The Pentagon says it's not clear that all the crew members will go on to Whidbey Island because some of them are actually based in Japan, and their families are at the Misawa Air Base in Japan.

Although there's been some thinking that it would be nice to have everybody all together for sort of a reunion at Whidbey Island. That, of course, won't take place until after the crew has been fully debriefed at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. And again, Pentagon officials tell us that, based on the fact that the plane appears to have taken off on time, it will get to Guam somewhere around midnight Eastern time, just about four and a half hours from now.

And then it's anticipated there will be some downtime on the ground there, and the plane -- another plane, a C-17 will take off arriving at Hickam Air Force Base about 6:30 a.m. local time in Hawaii. I should say, by the way, that there aren't a lot of people at the Pentagon at this hour but the very important people are still here, and I'm told by one officer that, down in the area of the joint chiefs of staff where some of people who work for the joint chiefs of staff are watching the departure of the plane on CNN, a little cheer went up when the plane took off from the ground and headed out of Chinese air space, an indication of some of some of the relief felt here at the Pentagon.

WOODRUFF: Lisa Weaver there on the ground. You're looking -- this is the picture of the scene just about 10 minutes ago when the plane actually took off. Lisa Weaver, our reporter on the ground with us now.

Lisa, tell us a little bit about the scene there. How many reporters were there? Were they all Americans? Were there other nationalities? What about the Chinese? Who was there watching all of this?

WEAVER: Well, watching this it's hard to say exactly how many reporters were staked out at various points around the airport. A couple of Hong Kong television crews joined us here at our vantage point not long after we arrived. But in terms of international media attention on this story, obviously, obviously there has been a lot of it.

It was a very interesting story from the standpoint that international journalists were able to come into China, often without the requisite journalist visa. Normally, to operate as a journalist in China, you have to apply. You get a visa in your passport that identifies you as a journalist. One takes that on a story-by-story basis. For those who are not based in China.

So the fact that the authorities allowed so many journalists to operate here, the fact that they allowed us to provide live coverage from Haikou, says something, perhaps about the fact that the Chinese saw this coverage in their interest, to some degree.

Now, we don't have any official comment from the Chinese government on what their view of the international coverage has been, but whether or not they agree with the way international journalists have reported it, nonetheless, in some sense, China's side of the story has got out. And so it's been somewhat unprecedented in that respect, the relative freedom of movement and operation covering this story.

The fact is, most of the restrictions have been restrictions on information from the American side. You can hear an airplane taking off in the back.

(AUDIO DELETED)

WOODRUFF: Well, you can tell...

WEAVER: One of the real informational -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: I was going to say, you can tell it's an airport. Lisa, before we leave you for just a moment, is there any way to turn the camera around just quickly, to show us some of this equipment that you're using, this videophone? Or is it so connected to the camera itself that it can't look back at itself?

WEAVER: Yeah, we can turn around the camera and show you some of the videophone equipment. It's -- if we just turn the camera over this way and show the equipment, the videophone equipment in the van that we're working from. I don't know if you can see from there, the monitor or not. It's in the front seat of our van. And it functions, basically, as a video dial pad. It's an amazingly simple machine to learn how to use.

So, yeah, this is a fairly easy setup. It's easy for to us put up. We've been able to -- bring you live pictures on relatively short notice. Now, as I speak, police reinforcements have arrived. They definitely know that we are here. Don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to be speaking to you. There are several uniformed police officers approaching. They have been called in to -- well, probably to move us out.

This is why we chose this vantage point, over the airport, so that we would not have this kind of interference earlier in the day. Let's turn the camera now to give you a picture of what's going on here. Several police officers have just shown up.

Now, this may look somewhat dramatic. The fact is in China, it's fairly routine. International journalists, and even Chinese journalists, work under a lot of restrictions. This is not a place that is very open to free reporting or free dissemination of information. We did not apply to come to this location to film, the airport, because of course, we didn't know exactly where we would be.

Some local residents probably tipped off these people that we were here. We are here with some other international broadcasters as well. The situation is fairly calm. They're just questioning our drivers, trying to ascertain exactly what is going on here. And I would imagine that before too long, we're going to be asked to move on -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, Lisa, we don't want to detain you -- we don't want to keep you if they are needing to talk to you. But, I do believe it is typical in China that the press have permission to use a camera wherever it goes. So that, as you say, is quite typical.

WEAVER: Yes, that's right. That's right. I mean, just as I was saying, that this has been an unusual story in terms of our ability to operate in Hainan, it just goes to show that there are contrasts here.

Yes, we were able to give you live pictures and live shots from the 16th floor of the hotel where we, most of the other journalist, and the U.S. diplomats were staying over the course of last few days. The local authorities knew that we were there. It's hard to imagine that they would not. Many government officials and ministries also received CNN. They know how to put two and two together.

The fact that they allowed us to stay, as I said, I believe -- there's no way to confirm this, of course, but we believe it has to do with the fact that in some sense, it serves China's interest to get this story in the international headlines. China does have its view and its position in this whole issue. So allowing us to broadcast is one thing, but we're dealing -- I'll stop for now while...

(AUDIO DELETED)

WEAVER: The police we're dealing with is really another matter, a much more local matter. They likely don't really know what we're doing. There are just a lot of journalists standing around with cameras and tripods, from their perspective, it looks strange. They don't know why we're here, so they're asking questions -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, Lisa, we appreciate your explaining this to us. I think it's always helpful, not only to us who work in television journalism, but also to our audience... WEAVER: OK, yeah, Judy, we are being told now, quite forcefully, that it's time to leave. A couple of gentlemen have walked up, and that one is very shortly going to physically close down our camera. You see him approaching the lens now. This is probably the end of the show from where we stand. Again, the American crew members took off now, at least 20 minutes ago. They are very close to being out of Chinese airspace. We've been able to bring you this much of the story. And it's...

(AUDIO GAP)

WOODRUFF: It appears that we've just lost the picture from Haikou, the capital of Hainan Island. Our reporter, Lisa Rose Weaver, you heard her talking just until, literally, seconds ago, about the fact that the police, the local police in that area were asking a lot of questions about why they were there. They had been allowed to do what they did, to set up the camera, to get the pictures of the plane landing to pick up the U.S. surveillance crew that had been detained in China, get pictures of the plane taking off.

But once it was clearly daybreak, the authorities descended and wanted to know why they didn't have permission. In China it is typical, it's traditional, to get that kind of permission before you are allowed to operate as a news crew. But we want to thank Lisa Weaver, our reporter there on the ground, and her crew.

We got a -- I think, a pretty good look at the van where the videophone, this -- new, as far as I'm concerned, new device that allows us to take video pictures, to run them through what's called a digital encryption device, and then send them along regular telephone lines. They are digital pictures. They're not as clear as the picture that you're seeing now, but it's a way to get a picture when you really want one. And we really wanted one.

We're going to take a break. When we come back, we hope to bring you a little bit of "CROSSFIRE." I'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Just about 23 minutes ago, this was the scene: An airplane carrying all 24 crew members from an American, a Navy spy plane, surveillance plane forced to land in China 11 days ago, they are free. They are off of Chinese soil. They took off just before 7:30 in the morning Hainan or Haikou time, which is Haikou being the provincial capital of Hainan Island.

They'll be in that plane for about 4 1/2 hours. That's how long it takes them to fly to Guam, and there will transfer from the commercial -- continental commercial jet, a charter plane, to a military plane and fly from there on to Hawaii.

Joining us now, CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace, who has a statement from the president -- Kelly.

WALLACE: Well, yes, Judy, we do know in fact that President Bush is definitely aware those 24 crew members are out of china and en route to Guam.

The president at this very hour is en route on Air Force One from North Carolina headed to Andrews Air Force Base. He was spending the day in North Carolina.

Apparently he was having dinner in a conference room on Air Force One and he was listening to CNN, and then when he heard that CNN was reporting -- and he was obviously listening to CNN report that those crew members yes, in fact, had been released and had been on that plane out of China -- he was with his national security adviser, Dr. Condoleezza Rice. And a U.S. official telling us that the president looked at Dr. Rice and said -- quote -- "You did a fine job. Congratulations. Our team didn't turn the first incident into a crisis."

So clearly lots of relief and happiness here at the White House that those crew members are out of china, but also, Judy, clearly some happiness as well. This clearly the first international test for this administration. Senior administration officials telling us that from the get-go the president and his senior aides did not turn this into a crisis, they kept to business as usual, they were all on the same page, all backing the same strategy. Even one senior official telling us earlier tonight that the president, more than maybe some of his other advisers, really felt that this strategy would lead to a successful conclusion.

So happiness tonight on the part of the president -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Kelly, response from the White House to the criticism that's already from coming in from some corners of the conservatives in the Republican Party saying that the president, the administration should not have said it was sorry.

WALLACE: Well, clearly, the administration expecting that criticism, certainly not surprised to hear some of that. But clearly, this White House was saying, a senior official telling us earlier, very happy to have this resolved now and that it didn't drag on any longer and that it wasn't continuing when Congress was coming back. This administration fearing it would face a very bad or difficult domestic situation on its hands if this was still going on and Congress was coming back...

WOODRUFF: Kelly...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Kelly, I'm going to interrupt, because joining us on the phone now from Hainan Island, Lisa Weaver, whom we last saw by videophone.

Lisa, we want to make sure you are all right. You're on a mobile phone.

WEAVER: Yes. Well, thank you for asking, Judy. Yes, we're all fine.

We're just being asked to move on by the police. They've arrived. They're quite calm. This is -- this is a routine -- this is a routine basically of reporting in China. We go through it again and again.

As I said earlier, really, it, in the main, it's amazing how much freedom we have had in the course of the last several days in reporting this story, in bringing live pictures to viewers. It's probably fair to say unprecedented for China reporting which is spontaneous as it was. Many people deciding to just come down to Hainan with, you know, without first telling the authorities.

So in that sense, yes, we were granted quite a lot of freedom. What we're dealing with right now on the ground is a relatively simple police matter. They don't -- they didn't know what we were doing here. And so the timing has been good. The plane in the air now for more than 20 minutes, and we are just about to leave the airport as well -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Lisa Weaver, we are -- we are going to let you go and respond, as you must, to the military, or rather local police there on Hainan Island.

Once again, we have watched in the last 25, 30 minutes -- this plane took off, a civilian charter jet carrying all 24 crew members, who were forced to make an emergency landing 11 days ago. After 11 intense days of negotiations they are free.

CNN will have live coverage of their landing in Guam sometime after 11:00, 11:30 Eastern this evening.

I'm Judy Woodruff in New York.

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