Meet Shane Osborn: From Chinese prisoner to U.S. Senate candidate

Jeff Zeleny, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

The Fine Print

After crash landing a U.S. spy plane in China and spending 12 days in captivity, Shane Osborn said the prospect of being a U.S. Senate candidate from Nebraska is not so daunting.

“If I can take 12 days of communist Chinese interrogations, I can certainly handle Harry Reid on the Hill,” Osborn told “The Fine Print” during a visit to Washington.

He is one of several military veterans running for office in this mid-term election year.

In 2001, Osborn was at the center of a diplomatic standoff between the U.S. and China when he was the pilot of a U.S. Navy plane that was caught spying on the Chinese.

“We were getting harassed by a Chinese fighter, and he hit us and it cut him in half and killed him and tore our aircraft,” he said. “We were flipped, inverted, and it took the nose off, a hole through the wing. It was pretty rough. We lost over 2 miles upside down and 24 people on board.”

Osborn was able to land the badly damaged plane on the Chinese island of Hainan. But that was just the beginning of his ordeal, which Osborn described as "long, scary, [and] intimidating.” He and his crew were taken off at gunpoint, held captive, and intensely interrogated by the Chinese.

“You just keep praying and making deals with the Lord, telling him, ‘Get me through this get my crew home,’” Osborn said. “My new name was master spy, and they had me pretty convinced I was going to a Chinese prison the rest of my life.”

While Osborn said the experience helped prepare him for the pressures of public office, he pointed to his upbringing as his main motivation for running for Senate.

“It goes back to growing up with a single mom who ran the veterans’ home in Norfolk, Nebraska,” he said. “Hearing those veterans and their stories and then going on to serve in the Navy. There is a saying we have in the Navy, ‘Not on my watch.’ And I think that applies here. I refuse to sit back and watch this country decline.”

Osborn, who also flew missions in Afghanistan, said he sees himself as part of a new generation of veteran leaders.

“Over a decade, war has created a lot of leaders, and these people understand how the world is and they understand that everybody loves America, and they understand the importance of getting this country back on track,” he said. “That’s why you’re seeing veterans step up and realize they got to you know they've got to come out here and fix things in Washington, it's not just overseas.”

Osborn describes himself as “a conservative guy,” but also a “results driven guy.”

“When you’re a military vet, you got a guy on the left that the judge said go to jail or enlist in the military and you got a guy on the right who's a Rhodes scholar and can speak six languages,” he said. “We all get put together we're all different backgrounds and in tense situations and we learn to work together and get the mission accomplished. Well, that's what I am coming out here to do.”

Osborn, who was elected as the Nebraska State Treasurer after he left the military, is facing several primary challengers in his race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Mike Johanns. He and Ben Sasse, a college president and veteran of the Bush administration, are locked in a competitive race.

The primary in May will likely determine the final outcome of the election, as Nebraska is a heavily Republican state.

For more of the interview with Osborn, including whether he’s related to legendary former Nebraska football coach and Congressman Tom Osborne, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”

ABC News’ Kyle Blaine, Tom Thornton, Hank Disselkamp, and Barry Haywood contributed to this episode.