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WHIDBEY ISLAND NAVAL AIR STATION Wash Reuters - The 24 Navy crew members of a US spy plane detained in China for 11 days arrived back at their home base to a heros welcome from thousands of relatives and supporters About 5000 people many waving Welcome Home posters American flags and yellow ribbons gathered at the Naval air base on Washington states Whidbey Island north of Seattle as the crew stepped off the military plane that flew them home after a debriefing in Hawaii Politicians and top military brass as well as relatives friends and colleagues gathered Saturday on the tarmac outside a hangar bedecked with flags and balloons for the homecoming ceremony where a red carpet was rolled out for the crew The crew members -- 21 men and three women -- hugged their relatives shook hands with dignitaries and then marched past throngs of admirers to a reception where politicians and high-ranking Navy officers hailed their exemplary behavior during their detention in China Your actions made us all proud to be Americans said Rear Adm Michael Holmes who commands the Navys Pacific patrol and reconnaissance force Home For Easter Arriving home a day before the Christian Easter holiday several of the crew members thanked God for their safe return home and described their fear as their EP-3 surveillance plane badly damaged in a collision with a Chinese F-8 fighter made an emergency landing on Chinas Hainan Island It was scary At the time I thought hey Im 20 years old I had a good life said Cryptologic Technician Jeremy Crandall But the crew was tight and everybody looked out for each other Armed Chinese soldiers quickly made it clear to the crew that they had to leave the plane though one crew member said their actions were not very aggressive The Americans calmly ran through a checklist disabling the planes advanced electronic listening devices
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