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STANDOFF ENDS

Joy, Disbelief Over Good News

Families: Crew's relatives in U.S. talk of celebrating when their loved ones return. It's 'like a big, dark cloud gone,' one says.

April 12, 2001|TONY PERRY and MARLENE CIMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Family members of the 24 crew members of the Navy spy plane reacted with relief, joy and even disbelief Wednesday at word that their loved ones were being freed.

"I'm floating on air," said Marjorie Richter of Loxley, Ala., mother of Navy Cryptologic Technician Kenneth Richter. "I feel very happy . . . something I haven't felt in the past 10 days."

At locations across the country in the hours between the announcement Wednesday and the crew's actual departure, family members talked of celebrations, tears and prayers. Many had decorated their front yards with yellow ribbons.

Tom Crandall of Loves Park, Ill., father of Cryptologic Technician Jeremy Crandall, said he hopes to take his son to Wrigley Field to meet Cubs star Sammy Sosa. But first, Tom Crandall said, he wants to give his son a bearhug.

"I just want to grab him and squeeze," Crandall said. "He's a man now, not a boy, but he won't mind. And if he doesn't like it, that's too bad. He'll get over it."

Fern Sonon of Lenhartsville, Pa., mother of computer specialist Lt. Marcia Sonon, said the news "was the answer to a lot of prayers." She said she never doubted that her daughter would be fine.

"She loves the Navy, and they've trained her how to survive," Sonon said. "I knew she was being brave, so we tried to be brave too."

Darlene Edmunds of Davis, Calif., ex-wife of Cryptologic Technician Josef Edmunds, said: "I'm ecstatic. I had worried it would take longer. There's been a lot of worry, but now it's over."

Darlene Edmunds said she has tried to shield the couple's children--Sierra, 8, Aspen, 6, and Tullen, 5--from the fact that their father was being held by the Chinese.

"All they know is that Daddy is away on a trip," she said. "The most exciting thing will be when the girls get to see him again."

Some family members were notified by the Navy, others heard of the impending release on television or radio or from friends or relatives.

Barbara Comerford of Westchester in Los Angeles, grandmother of Lt. j.g. John Comerford, first heard the news on television at 5:30 a.m.

It is "like a big, dark cloud gone," she said. "It's just wonderful. I couldn't believe it when I got the news. I never want to go through anything like this again."

The crew members are part of Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One, based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station north of Seattle. Their EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance plane, one of six in the squadron, operates out of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.

Family members said they are ready to travel to Whidbey Island to be reunited with their loved ones.

Crandall said that he would not "feel right until I see him. Then I'll feel right."

He said he and his wife plan to travel to Whidbey. "Whenever they [the Navy] want me," Crandall said, "I'm out of here."

Bob Blocher of Charlotte, N.C., father of Steven Blocher, an aviation electrician's mate, said he wants to thank Lt. Shane Osborn, the pilot who safely landed the damaged plane after it collided with a Chinese fighter jet.

"After we hug Steven, he's going to be the first one I want to see," Blocher said. "He deserves a medal for getting that plane on the ground."

Osborn's mother, Diana, in Norfolk, Neb., thanked her neighbors for their support during her son's ordeal. "The yellow ribbons, the prayer chains--it's just unbelievable," she said.

Some family members were left almost speechless by the announcement from President Bush that the diplomatic impasse was over.

"We're overwhelmed," said Tilda Young of Katy, Texas, mother of Cryptologic Technician Rodney Young.

Garrett Towne of Hayward, Calif., brother of Air Force Senior Airman Curtis Towne, said simply, "We're happy, very, very happy, that's all we can say."

Barbara DiStefano, Kenneth Richter's sister, said her Staten Island home may not be large enough for his homecoming celebration, which will feature his favorite food: barbecue. "New York may have to help us," she said.

Navy officials said the crew members would be flown to Hawaii for medical examinations and debriefings. After that, they will be taken to Whidbey.

"Maybe we'll have an Easter reunion," said Sandy Guidry of Satellite Beach, Fla., mother of Aviation Electronics Technician Scott Guidry.

Edmunds praised Bush's handling of the crisis and said she has newfound respect for the president.

"He showed that maybe he's not the way 'Saturday Night Live' portrays him," she said.

*

Perry reported from San Diego and Cimons from Washington. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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