White House: Rules not followed in shoot-down
Missionary plane was fired on despite U.S. concerns
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Without directly blaming the Peruvian government, the White House said Monday that the Peruvian Air Force failed to follow established procedures before firing on a plane carrying American missionaries.
Veronica "Roni" Bowers and her infant daughter were killed; Bowers' husband and son and the pilot survived.
The Peruvian Air Force shot down the single-engine Cessna 185 on Friday after the crew of a plane -- owned by the U.S. Department of Defense and chartered by the CIA as part of a joint Peru-U.S. drug interdiction program -- spotted the plane and notified the Peruvian officer aboard.
The officer, a lieutenant colonel, notified Peruvian authorities and authorized the shoot-down. The Americans, U.S. officials said, tried to persuade the Peruvians to proceed cautiously and take time to get a firm identification of the plane.
"The United States, in the process of passing on information, as part of an ongoing operation, did its best to make certain that all the rules were followed," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who added that the information gathered so far indicated that those rules were not followed.
"The United States plane in the area raised questions and the questions were not fully addressed by the Peruvian aircraft," he said.
The Peruvian Air Force, however, denied that it had deviated from the standard rules of engagement.
"The only thing I can tell you is that the air force followed the procedures," said air force spokesman Cmdr. Robert Roca. "It regrets this lamentable accident in which two people died."
'It was scary'
Fleischer said top Bush adviser Karl Rove called leaders of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism on Sunday to voice the president's regret and sympathy for the deaths of Bowers, 35, and her daughter Charity and to promise a thorough investigation. The ABWE is the mission organization that employed the Bowers couple and the plane's pilot.
Jim Bowers, 38, and 7-year old Cory Bowers were not injured in the incident. They and pilot Kevin Donaldson, 42, who suffered bullet wounds to his legs, returned to the United States on Sunday.
In a statement posted on the Baptist association's Web site, Bowers thanked people for their prayers and support.
"Roni and Charity were tragically killed, and we are suffering for that loss," he said. "I'm sure we will feel the loss more as time goes by. In spite of that, we still are trusting in God."
Donaldson was in fair condition following surgery in Reading, Pennsylvania. He credited God for his ability to land the plane despite his injuries.
"It was scary," Donaldson said, "something that will haunt me for a long time."
He said he had been unaware that his plane was under surveillance until the Peruvian Air Force plane pulled up alongside him.
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 ABWE, 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."
E.C. Haskell, a spokesman for the ABWE, said the plane flown by Donaldson was "clearly identified and registered with the Peruvian government."
CNN White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.
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