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U.S. Fliers Thank Vietnam For Rescuing Them

July 19, 1988

SUBIC BAY NAVAL BASE, Philippines (AP) _ Three U.S. Navy fliers rescued by a Vietnamese ship after ditching their plane in the South China Sea returned to their home base Tuesday and thanked the Vietnamese for saving them.

About 30 people, including Rear Adm. Theodore Lewin, greeted the three when they arrived on a flight from Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

″We’d like to thank the Vietnamese navy for pulling us out of the sea and the Vietnamese government for their courtesy and hospitality,″ said the pilot of the downed plane, Lt. Richard K. Maurer, 30, of Harvey’s Lake, Penn.

″They treated us very well. They were very concerned for our safety ... It’s good to be back,″ said Maurer, who was flying with Lt. J.G. Elizabeth A. Steinnecker of Corpus Christi, Texas, and Petty Officer 1st Class Michael A. Neel, 34, of Albuquerque, N.M. when their plane went down July 12.

″I feel fabulous,″ Mrs. Steinnecker said after embracing her husband, Lt. Christopher Steinnecker. ″Thank you all for not giving up hope.″

Mrs. Steinnecker, 29, who is pregnant, co-piloted the CT-39E twin-engine jet that crashed landed in the South China Sea near the Spratly islands.

Earlier Tuesday, the three flew from Vietnam to Bangkok aboard a transport plane sent by the U.S. Embassy in Thailand. U.S. Ambassador William A. Brown greeted them in Bangkok with a bag of MacDonald’s hamburgers.

U.S. officials said the three were flying from Singapore back to Subic Bay Naval Base, 50 miles northwest of Manila, when their equipment failed and they couldn’t make a scheduled refueling stop in Malaysia.

With only a little fuel left, they made a ″controlled landing″ in the sea, but the plane, which was intact, sank immediately, officials said.

A Vietnamese navy vessel rescued the Americans shortly afterward and they were brought them to mainland Vietnam.

Vietnam maintains military forces on some of the Spratly islands, which are also claimed by China, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines.

On previous occasions, Vietnam’s communist authorities have confined for months in difficult conditions Americans and other foreigners caught in its territorial waters. Large fines were demanded for their release.

The United States does not have diplomatic recognition with Vietnam, and observers said the speed with which this incident was resolved reflected recently improved bilateral relations.

In the past week, Vietnam made one of its largest returns of remains of Americans missing in the Vietnam war and agreed in principle to resettlement in the United States of people it had detained in ″re-education″ camps.

Update hourly