U.S. officials: Peruvians made decision to down plane
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The crew of an American surveillance plane tried to dissuade the Peruvian Air Force from shooting down a plane carrying Baptist missionaries that it mistakenly believed to be a drug trafficker, U.S. officials maintain.
An American missionary and her infant daughter were killed; three people survived.
The Peruvian Air Force shot down the single-engine Cessna 185 on Friday after a CIA-chartered private plane helping the Peruvians monitor for drug traffic identified the missionaries' plane as a possible trafficker.
But U.S. officials said the American crew aboard urged caution, repeatedly asking the Peruvians to wait until a firmer identification could be established.
The Americans, however, had no authority over the Peruvian officer flying with them, and he ordered the plane shot down.
Veronica "Roni" Bowers, 35, and her infant daughter Charity were killed. Her husband Jim and son Cory and pilot Kevin Donaldson survived.
Dispute over whether flight plan filed
The United States has operated a surveillance program with Peru since 1994, although the program was briefly suspended in 1997, apparently because of another incident involving a mistaken identification, CNN's David Ensor reported.
No other details were known, and the flights were resumed after Congress passed a law absolving American crews from any responsibility if the Peruvians make a mistake.
U.S. officials have again suspended the surveillance flights, pending an investigation into Friday's incident.
The Peruvian Air Force said the pilot of the Cessna failed to file a flight plan -- leading to the suspicion of a drug flight -- and entered Peruvian air space from Brazil. The air force also said Donaldson did not respond to attempts at radio communication from the military plane.
But the North American Float Plane Service provided CNN with a copy of a flight plan dated April 19 that details Donaldson's scheduled round-trip itinerary between Iquitos and Islandia, Peru.
And Michael Loftis, president of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism -- the organization that employed the Bowers couple and Donaldson -- told CNN that Donaldson had been in contact with an airport tower before the shooting began.
"He was in contact with Iquitos," Loftis said. "They were discussing his landing slot, according to his previously filed flight plan, when these air force planes came around. They circled the plane once and then began firing."
Survivors return to United States
The three surviving U.S. citizens from the downed plane returned to the United States on Sunday. Bowers, his son and Donaldson arrived in Houston at dawn, said E.C. Haskell, a spokesman for the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism.
Bowers, 38, and his son, 7, who were uninjured in the shooting, boarded a flight to Raleigh, North Carolina, where they reunited with family members. The bodies of Mrs. Bowers and her 7-month-old daughter remained in Peru.
"We're concerned about that," Haskell said. "The Peruvian government has them."
Haskell said the Peruvian government had impounded the plane, which crashed in the Amazon River near the town of Huanta. The survivors were rescued by a Peruvian in a dugout canoe.
Donaldson and his wife, who was in Lima at the time of the shooting, arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon from Houston. From there, they traveled to West Reading Hospital, in Reading, Pennsylvania, where Donaldson was in fair condition following surgery.
Long-term missionary work
The Association of Baptists for World Evangelism -- a 74-year-old organization based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with 1,300 missionaries in 65 countries -- has operated in Peru since 1939 and has led an aviation ministry there since 1961.
Bowers is from Muskegon, Michigan, and had been working in Peru since 1993. His wife was from Pace, Florida.
Donaldson, 42, of Geigertown, Pennsylvania, has been a missionary in Peru since 1983.
The Bowerses had been in Peru for eight years, working on a riverboat, traveling the Amazon and its tributaries, ministering in villages and working in medical clinics and literacy programs.
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