And finally — yet another chapter of the Chen Guangcheng saga comes to a close. The blind activist and self-taught lawyer left Beijing’s Capital Airport yesterday at about 7pm with his wife and two children on a 13-hour flight to Newark.
According to Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times, Chen and family did not know they were leaving until several hours before the flight. The four were escorted onto the plane by US officials just 15 minutes before takeoff, and as soon as they were on board, flight attendants drew a curtain around their business class seats.
Bo Gu and Ed Flanagan of NBC News give us a peek at some of the action that took place in the morning before Chen flew off:
Early Saturday morning NBC News called Chen at the Beijing hospital where he has been held since leaving the U.S. Embassy on May 2. Chen said he still didn’t know when he was leaving but remained optimistic that it would be soon.
Moments later, NBC News made a second call to Chen, during which a group of Chinese officials were heard entering the room.
One of them was heard telling Chen, “wrap up, you are leaving today.”
During a 10-minute conversation, Chen was told he would undergo some final medical check-ups and then he and his family would be taken to the airport.
At one point, Chen, 40, reminded the officials that the investigation into his detention in Shandong should continue after his departure.
After the officials left, Chen got back on the phone. He sounded excited about his imminent departure and said he had left the phone on so that NBC News could hear the conversation.
News of Chen’s release from hospital and departure to the United States caused a stir online and foreign journalists rushed to Beijing’s Capital Airport.
At the airport, it was largely business as usual, with no apparent additional security around.
Shortly after he arrived at the airport, he appeared to be uncertain that he would actually be leaving. “I’m at the airport now. I’ve already left the hospital. But there are many things that are still unclear,” he told Reuters, saying he had not got his passport. [Read the rest of the account here.]