It looked like it was going to be another routine day on the top floor of the Hainan Mandarin Hotel in Haikou, where the US diplomats sent to meet the detained crew of the spy plane and one journalist accidently put on their floor have been holed up since last Tuesday. As was the case on Monday and Tuesday, US officials were expecting another all-day wait in their hotel rooms, followed by a 40-minute meeting with the crew at the Southern Air Force No 1 Guesthouse at about 7pm. But at approximately 5.30pm, it was announced that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would soon hold two simultaneous press briefings - one in Beijing and one in Haikou. One US official, still awaiting word from the Hainan Foreign Affairs Office about another crew meeting, thought it would be to announce the suspension of the search for Wang Wei, the Chinese pilot missing since his jet fighter and the US spy plane collided on April 1. At the same time, US military attache Brigadier-General Neal Sealock was spotted padding back to his hotel room in boxer shorts, a Harvard T-shirt and bare feet. As reporters gathered in a second-floor hotel conference room in anticipation of the 7pm briefing, the US delegation convened in what has become their 'war room' - Room 2327 - to watch the briefing on CNN. At about the same time, Hainan Foreign Affairs Office director Chen Ci announced China's decision to release the 24 crew members. Mr Chen said the crew would be allowed to leave China 'after completing the necessary procedures'. Meanwhile, the American delegation continued to huddle in their hotel rooms and switched off their mobile phones. They did not want to make any comment pending President George W. Bush's first public reaction to the news of the impending release, which was broadcast at 8.25pm. At 10pm, General Sealock left for a meeting with Hainan Foreign Affairs Office representatives, at which arrangements for the aircrew's departure from China - possibly as early as 5am today - were to be worked out. He was also hoping that a sixth meeting with the crew would happen later in the evening. US officials who stayed behind joked with the hallway guards they had previously referred to as 'the goon squad'. Last night at the Southern Air Force No 1 Guesthouse in central Haikou, lights were turned on and windows opened for the first time in a week, though no Americans were seen inside. Security was also much more lax than in previous days, with one reporter getting within 10 yards of the guesthouse before being turned away. A few Haikou residents, reacting strongly to the release of the crew, gathered at the military guesthouse. 'Down with America!' one man shouted before being stopped by police who took away the poster he was carrying condemning US hegemony. He was not detained. Later, another man staged a similar, brief protest but left peacefully.