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Crew glad to be alive

"Cryptological Technician 3rd Class Jeremey Crandall said his 20-year-old life flash before his eyes when the EP-3E took a near-inverted dive after impact with a Chinese F8 fighter jet.It was scary, he said. I said my prayers.Crandall made it clear that he credits his superior officer for the crew's well-being.We all owe our lives to Lt. (Shane) Osborn. Lt. Osborn saved our lives, Crandall said of the EP-3E pilot who managed to make an emergency landing of the aircraft on China's Hainan Island.Outwardly jubilant members of the EP-3E surveillance plane's crew of 24 detained in China for 11 days briefly addressed the media Saturday after the formal welcome-home ceremony and before scurrying off Whidbey Island Naval Air Station with their families.Representing officers and enlisted personnel, six members of the crew individually stepped up to media microphones, offering their gratitude.Thank you to everyone who has been supportive of us, Lt. Patrick Honeck said. Thanks to everyone who came out to welcome us home.Honeck introduced his wife Kimmie, daughter Melissa, son Devin and several members of his extended family to the media and the nation, watching live from coast to coast. Of how it felt to once again hug his wife and children, Honeck said, It was awesome.While detailed information of China's detainment have not been released, the VQ-1 aircrew gave a glimpse of some of the situations they faced.Greeted by armed Chinese on April 1 immediately after Osborn landed the EP-3E, it wasn't clear to all crewmembers what the Chinese were saying or instructing them to do.It wasn't in English, Honeck said, prompting some laughter from the media corps.AD2 Wendy Westbrook offered a little insight into exactly that the so-called catered meals included.Basically they fed us rice, Westbrook said.He also said the Chinese kept encouraging the U.S. aircrew to rest and keep eating.The incident prompted an unexpected reaction from one crewmember. After the plane took the dive and Osborn regained control, CT1 Josef Edmunds decided then and there to ask for his girlfriend's hand in marriage.He turned to his friend and crewmate, CT2 Brandon Funk, and told him that after the incident was over he was going to get married.Edmunds said he was already thinking of asking his girlfriend, Sondra, to marry him, but I was waiting for the perfect time.After the landing on Hainan, and having to get off the EP-3E at gunpoint, Edmunds took the situation in stride.I was so happy to be alive I had a big grin on my face, Edmunds said.Lt. j.g. Regina Kauffmann agreed with Edmunds' assessment of the ability to land the badly damaged plane safely at an airstrip.I felt that we were very lucky, Kauffman said.Lt. j.g. Richard Payne recalled the moment the crew members found out they would return to U.S. soil.The crew was called to a meeting with Chinese officials, where the official first read a statement then told the crew that they would be going home.Lt. Osborn turned to the rest of us and smiled slightly, Payne said, adding that the crew was careful to remain calm and composed.The first outburst (of cheers) came when the Continental jet took off (from Hainan), Payne said.Lt. j.g. Jeffrey Vignery was careful to not leave out anyone in his list of thank yous.After thanking God, his family, the U.S. government and the American people, Vignery summed up his thoughts about the out-pouring of support.I've never felt so proud to be an American, Vignery said.Perhaps Honeck best captured the entire international incident in a nutshell: The crew was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We happened to pull out of it with the end result being good. You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611 "

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