U.S. plane gave missionaries' location to Peru
LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- A U.S. radar plane gave Peru's air force the location of a plane carrying American missionaries, which Peru shot down, U.S. officials said.
The attack on the seaplane by a Peruvian fighter Friday killed a mother and her infant daughter. U.S. and Peruvian officials said the plane had been mistaken for a drug-running aircraft.
In a written statement attributed to an unnamed State Department official, the United States said its reconnaissance plane looking for drug smugglers provided Peruvian authorities with the seaplane's location.
However, U.S. officials said Peru was responsible for identifying the aircraft and deciding on any action.
"Pending a thorough investigation and review by Peruvian and U.S. officials of how this tragic incident took place, the provision of location data by the U.S. and the conduct of interdiction flights by Peru have been suspended," the statement said.
Wounded in the attack, seaplane pilot Kevin Donaldson made an emergency landing on the Amazon River. Veronica Bowers, 35, and her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, died in the attack. Bowers' husband, Jim, and their son, Cory, escaped unhurt.
Donaldson's son, Benjamin Donaldson, said the a bullet severed major arteries in his father's leg. The pilot's father, Richmond Donaldson, told CNN the survivors will be flown to Texas, and Donaldson will then be flown to Pennsylvania for what is expected to be extensive surgery.
Jim and Veronica Bowers had been in Peru for eight years, working on a riverboat, traveling up and down the Amazon and its tributaries. They ministered in villages and worked in medical clinics and literacy programs for the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania- based mission.
The 74-year-old organization has about 1,300 missionaries in 65 countries, said its president, Michael Loftus. The couple had flown with Donaldson to the border town of Benjamin Constant, site of the nearest U.S. consulate, to obtain a visa for the infant, he said.
"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?" Loftus said.
Peru says plane did not identify itself
A statement from the Peruvian Air Force on the incident said an unidentified plane they said had not filed a flight plan was detected entering Peruvian air space from Brazil around 10 a.m. Friday. 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. It said the air force has initiated an investigation, "lamenting profoundly the loss of human life."
Richmond Donaldson disputed that account, saying Peruvian controllers knew his son's plane was on the way.
"He radioed into the tower in Iquitos," Donaldson said. "The tower received his call, he said his location and the time he would arrive, and then it was just 10 minutes after that the jets came in and fired on the plane.
"I don't understand why they did not hear that he was contacting with the tower," he said.
Loftus said the plane never left Peruvian air space. He could not say definitively that a flight plan had been filed but said it was common practice.
Bush offers condolences
The incident occurred as both U.S. President George W. Bush and Peruvian Prime Minister Perez de Cuellar attended the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, Canada.
De Cuellar approached Bush and "expressed his deep regret and offered to help the families in any way he could," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Bush said he would "wait to see all the facts" before assigning any blame, "but right now, we mourn for the loss of two lives."
The U.S. Embassy in Lima originally said the American reconnaissance aircraft was in the area but did not participate in shooting down the missionaries' plane.
Between 1994 and 1997, Peru shot down about 25 suspected drug planes on their way from camps in Peru's Amazon to Colombian cocaine refineries. As a result, smugglers began using Brazilian and Venezuelan airspace to move drug shipments, former U.S. anti-drug chief Barry McCaffrey said.
"There has to be strict compliance with safety concerns," McCaffrey told NBC's "Meet the Press." "But we've got to be very determined to confront a criminal organization that kills 52,000 Americans a year."
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