Plane shootdown: Drug intercept flights suspended in Peru
Accounts differ on why missionary plane shot down in Peru
LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- Drug interception flights in Peru have been suspended until the completion of an investigation into the downing of a missionary plane that killed two of five Americans on board -- a 7-month-old girl and her mother, U.S. embassy spokesman Doug Barnes told CNN Saturday.
"We are working with Peruvian authorities to investigate what happened," Barnes said.
Meanwhile, the Peruvian Air Force and a Baptist missionary group are giving conflicting accounts of events that led to the shooting down of the plane.
U.S. first located plane
A U.S. reconnaissance plane, helping the Peruvians detect aircraft used in drug trafficking, was near the Peruvian military plane at the time of the incident but was unarmed and did not participate in shooting at the missionaries' plane, said a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Lima.
According to a statement issued by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. reconnaissance plane provided location data for the subsequent intercept mission that was conducted by the Peruvian Air Force. (See full story.)
A statement from the Peruvian Air Force said an unidentified plane, which had not filed a flight plan, was detected entering Peruvian air space from Brazil around 10 a.m. Friday.
"Facing such circumstances and, in agreement with established procedures, the intercept system was activated," the statement said. A Cessna A-37B, with the assistance of the reconnaissance plane, "proceeded to intercept the unknown airship."
After the missionaries' Cessna 185 did not respond to a command to identify itself, the air force plane fired, the statement said. The pilot of the civilian plane finally responded after landing in a river near Pevas, at which point the Peruvian Air Force dispatched a rescue plane, it said.
The statement said the air force has initiated an investigation, "lamenting profoundly the loss of human life."
Mission: Plane on safe course
Michael Loftus, president of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, which sponsored the missionaries, said their plane never left Peruvian air space. It had flown to the border town of Benjamin Constant, site of the nearest consulate, to obtain a visa for the infant, he said.
Loftus said Pilot Kevin Donaldson had been in radio contact with the tower in Iquitos.
"Central aviation authorities had given him a landing slot. How could he be in contact with the civil authorities and their own military not know about it?" he said.
Loftus said he could not confirm that a flight plan had been filed, but he said that was the usual practice.
"I can't explain to you the statements of the Peruvian Air Force, other than probable confusion until they get their facts sorted out," he said.
Killed in the incident were 35-year-old missionary Veronica Bowers and her seven-month-old daughter, Charity. Bowers' husband, Jim, 38, and their son, Cory, 7, were uninjured. The family is from Muskegon, Michigan, and had been working in Peru since 1993.
Kevin Donaldson, 42, of Geigertown, Pennsylvania, a missionary in Peru since 1983, was shot in the legs.
The spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Lima said the U.S. reconnaissance plane was working as part of an agreement between the United States and Peru to combat drug trafficking.
"As part of an agreement, U.S. radar and aircraft provide tracking information to the Peruvian Air Force on planes suspected of smuggling illegal drugs in the region," he said.
Bush, de Cuellar express sorrow for loss
Asked about the incident while attending the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, President George Bush said, "I'll wait to see all the facts before I reach any conclusions about blame, but right now, we mourn for the loss of the life, two lives."
Peruvian Prime Minister Javier Perez de Cuellar approached Bush and "expressed his deep regret and offered to help the families in any way he could," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe, the Associated Press reports.
After the incident, the hydroplane made an emergency landing into the Amazon, flipped on impact and partially submerged.
Babbi Donaldson, the pilot's wife, said the military plane continued to strafe the Cessna with machine-gun fire even after it landed in the river.
"His leg was fractured by a bullet that went through his calf," Donaldson said of her husband. "He bled quite profusely floating in the Amazon before help came out from the riverbank."
Loftus said the two people who died were killed by shots fired while the plane was in flight, not from the crash landing.
A Peruvian in a dugout canoe rescued the survivors, who were taken to a clinic in the nearby town of Pevas. The surviving members of the Bowers family and the bodies of the two victims taken late Friday night to Iquitos, about 100 miles west southwest of Pevas.
Survivors to return to U.S.
Donaldson's father, Richmond Donaldson, told CNN his son and the other two survivors from the accident will be flown to Houston Saturday night on a Continental airlines jet. From there, he said, his son will fly to Newark, New Jesey, arriving Sunday morning, and then go on to the Philadelphia area for what's expected to be extensive surgery.
Donaldson said the Bowers were expected to go to Pensacola, Florida, where Veronica's family lives.
He said his son was in good spirits, but was losing the feeling in his right foot, and had lost five to six quarts of blood.
Jim and Veronica Bowers had been in Peru for eight years, working on a riverboat, traveling up and down the Amazon and its tributaries, ministering in villages and working in medical clinics and literacy programs.
Bowers is planning to return with his son to Michigan as soon as possible, Loftus said. The funeral will be held in Muskegon.
The ABWE is a 74-year-old organization that has about 1,300 missionaries in 65 countries, said Loftus.
Its members work to "spread the gospel and plant churches and assist people throughout the world," he said from the group's headquarters in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Their work includes building and running hospitals, schools and orphanages, he said.
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