1 of 4 | US basketball player Brittney Griner is seen on a plane ahead of departing for the United States on Friday. (A still image grabbed from a video provided by Russian Federal Security Service / UPI) | License Photo
Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Brittney Griner was excited to socialize after 10 months spent in a Russian prison, quickly taking to the flight crew bringing her home to the United States.
Roger Carstens, the State Department's Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, told CNN that Griner was offered privacy during her flight home from the United Arab Emirates, but instead chose to speak with the flight crew for much of the 18-hour flight.
"I said, 'Brittany, you must have been through a lot over the last 10 months. Here's your seat. Please feel free to decompress. We'll give you your space," Carstens said. "And she said, 'Oh no. I've been in prison for 10 months now listening to Russian, I want to talk."
Following the comment Griner asked to be introduced to all of the members of the flight crew, then spent about 12 hours speaking with them during the flight. Carstens said they spoke about "everything" including her time in Russia, though he did not share details.
Griner's freedom was procured in a one-for-one prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia. In return for Griner, the United States released Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The U.S. government attempted to secure the release of Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan in exchange for Bout over the summer, but a deal could not be agreed upon.
Whelan has been in Russian custody for four years. He was arrested on charges of espionage, which Russia posits is the reason he has not been released in exchange attempts.
Whelan's military service ended in 2008 when he was discharged for bad conduct following allegations of larceny.
Griner arrived in San Antonio, Texas, on Friday. She is a Texas native who plays for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury. In the 2021 season she played in 30 of 40 games, averaging more than 20 points and nine rebounds. She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist.