Russian Firm Says It'll Carry U.S. Spy Plane

From Associated Press

A Russian air cargo company said Saturday that it has been picked to fly a dismantled U.S. Navy spy plane out of China.

Leonid Shirobokov, a spokesman for Polyot, told the Interfax and Itar-Tass news agencies that his company had won the contract, which was announced last week by the U.S. Defense Department.

He said a Russian Antonov 124-100 will take the EP-3 spy plane from the airfield on the Chinese island of Hainan, but he did not give a date for the operation.

A Pentagon spokesman could not immediately confirm the Polyot deal. Last week, the Defense Department said it wanted to charter two Antonov aircraft for the job.

The U.S. aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter during a reconnaissance flight on April 1. It made an emergency landing on Hainan island off southern China, and the crew was detained by the Chinese for 11 days.

Washington originally wanted to repair the plane and fly it home, but China refused to allow it.

Pentagon officials said chartering a Russian Antonov, one of the world's largest cargo aircraft, was necessary because China had refused to allow a U.S. military plane to retrieve the crippled aircraft.

They said dismantling the aircraft, packing it aboard the Antonov and returning it to the U.S. would probably take several weeks.

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