WASHINGTON - The crew of a Navy spy plane that landed on China's Hainan Island in April 2001 after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet did not destroy all classified materials aboard, and it is "highly probable" that some fell into Chinese hands, Navy investigators concluded.
The report, which was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Jane's Defense Weekly, blamed the Chinese fighter pilot for the collision and did not fault the Navy crew for failing to complete the destruction of classified information aboard the EP-3.
Specifics about the classified materials were deleted from the released version of the report, and it did not address the possible impact of any compromise of official secrets.
"The destruction of classified material was accomplished while the aircrew was probably still in shock from the aircraft collision and the subsequent rapid descent of the aircraft and with very little time prior to landing," the report said.
It also found that "destruction of all classified materials onboard did not occur" and concluded that "compromise by the People's Republic of China of undestroyed classified material on PR-32 is highly probable and cannot be ruled out." PR-32 was the mission designation of the U.S. plane.
Materials classified as confidential, secret and top secret were, as a matter of normal practice, carried aboard the plane in papers, magnetic tapes, computer disks and hard drives, the report said.
The incident on April 1, 2001, caused a deep rift in U.S.-Chinese relations, made worse by China's decision to detain the 24 American crew members for 11 days and not permit the United States to fly the damaged EP-3 off Hainan Island. Instead it was removed in pieces and later reassembled in the United States.
The investigation report said the crew had hidden some classified materials onboard and hand-shredded some papers.
"Therefore, compromise of undestroyed classified material is highly probable," it concluded.