WASHINGTON, D.C., April 11 — The return from China of the 24 military personnel aboard the downed American spy plane isn’t likely to put this story to rest. Instead, it may well fuel additional questions about how this all happened.
In his online column, military insider David Hackworth writes today that his sources want to know why the U.S. still relies on such old-fashioned methods of reconnaissance when it has satellite stations circling the earth and listening posts on the ground all over the place.
Hackworth, a Korean and Vietnam combat vet who has become a whistle-blower for military members and an unusually well informed unofficial source, further asks why the U.S. plane wasn’t accompanied by navy fighters, especially since the Chinese have been harassing American fliers over international waters.
And why didn’t the crew follow an often standard procedure of ditching at sea to protect the top-secret equipment on board? After a water landing, American search and rescue units presumably would have plucked them up. Instead, Hackworth’s sources tell him, Pacific commanders authorized the spy plane to land in the middle of a Chinese military base, thus allowing the brass there to rummage through the craft’s gear.
The answer, sources tell Hackworth, is that the plane could have been damaged by machine-gun fire and the collision with a Chinese pilot, making a water landing impossible. Others told him the bird was so loaded with recon gear that it couldn’t have withstood a landing at sea and may not have had parachutes on board.