Confusion Blamed For Peru Crash

First lady Laura Bush helps Chef Emeril Lagasse prepare a breakfast dish in New Orleans, Thursday, April 19, 2007. Mrs. Bush delivered remarks at the Zurich Classic "Birdies for Books" breakfast before the demonstration. The professional golf tour stops in New Orleans this week and a $100 donation will be made to the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries for every birdie posted during the tournament.
Procedural errors, language problems and an overloaded communications system all contributed to the mistaken downing of an American missionary plane over Peru, a U.S.-Peruvian inquiry concluded in a report released Thursday.

Veronica "Roni" Bowers, a 35-year-old missionary, and her 7-month-old daughter Charity were killed on April 20 when their plane — which also carried a Bower's husband and son and a pilot — was mistaken for a drug courier by a Peruvian air force working with a CIA-sponsored surveillance team.

The government also released dramatic of the incident, taken by the CIA surviellance aircraft, showing the final seconds before the American missionary plane was shot down over the Peruvian jungle.

The United States has suspended drug surveillance flights since the downing. The report did not address whether flights should be resumed or recommend changes in policy; those issues will be part of a follow-up report being prepared by Morris Busby, a former U.S. ambassador to Colombia.

The Transcipt
A CIA transcript of the shoot-down incident reveals that the Peruvian officer aboard the CIA aircraft tried three times to radio the missionary plane but got no answer. The Peruvian air force jet made two passes. It is not clear if warning shots were fired.

The Peruvian officer then asked his ground control for permission to order the jet to open fire.

One of the three Americans aboard the CIA plane asked, "Are you sure this is a bad guy?"

"No," the Peruvian officer said, but again asked for permission to open fire.

"But he's not taking any evasive action," one American said, and asked for the Peruvian jet to fly closer to the small plane. "To ID the tail number is very important," he said.

The jet reported the tail number but without waiting for a response, the Peruvian officer again asked permission to shoot the plane down.

"Jeez," one of the Americans said, "Are you sure it's a bandito? … OK, if you're sure."

The American pilot then said to his co-pilot, "I think we're making a mistake." The co-pilot agreed.

The jet then opened fire. Officials say the transcript shows the Americans then heard the missionaries' pilot, Donaldson, scream, "They're killing us."

One American yells, "Don't shoot, don't shoot." The Peruvian officer tells the jet, "No more." One of the Americans says"God."

The report said language limitations, an overloaded communications system and cumbersome procedures impeded the flow of messages as the U.S. crew raised doubts that the Cessna was indeed a drug flight.

Among the examples cited:

  • The Peruvian on the surveillance plane didn't understand the American pilot when he suggested they try to get the Cessna to land before firing weapons.
  • The Americans weren't immediately aware when the Peruvians identified the registration number of the airplane — something that would have allowed them to identify the plane's owners.
  • About a minute before the shooting, the U.S. pilot tried to tell the Peruvian on board that the Cessna had contacted the control tower for the first time. But the Peruvian, who was talking to the fighter plane, didn't understand the message because of communications congestion.
  • In the 15 minutes leading up to the shooting, attempts by the Americans to communicate with the Peruvian "were not understood because of the stressful situation and the language problems prevailing on board," the report said.
The report also said that the Americans and Peruvians had been suspicious of the flight because no flight plan had been filed and it seemed to follow an erratic course that could send it into Brazilian or Colombian territory.

The report did not directly assign blame but said neither nation had been following the full set of procedures developed by the two governments in 1994 to avoid such inadvertent downings.

The missionary group, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, has said pilot Kevin Donaldson was following customary practice in the area by calling in his flight plan as he came within radio range of the tower.

The missionary group initially insisted a flight plan was filed ahead of time. An airport manager says one was filed in-flight.

The report also noted that he was following the winding course of the Amazon River in case he needed to make an emergency landing.

The report said the Peruvian jet had fired warning shots, but they were never seen by Donaldson. To maintain the low speed needed to follow the Cessna, the jet was putting its nose up, so the shots would have passed above the missionary plane and out of Donaldson's view.

Under current agreements, Peru can use U.S. data to attack a plane only if it is flying without a flight plan, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.

Donaldson, who was wounded in the shooting, claims he never heard a radio warning or saw warning shots before the jet shot the plane down. Relatives of the missionaries said the aircraft received clearance to land moments before the shooting.

Officials say there is no evidence the pilot of the Peruvian jet waggled his wings or made hand signals to communicae with Donaldson. The jet pilot also apparently neglected to fire any warning shots.

According to engagement rules, Peruvian fighters must first try to make radio contact and visually signal a suspect aircraft to land for inspection before opening fire. If the pilot balks, warning shots must be fired.

After being hit by the gunfire, the plane crash-landed in the Amazon River near the jungle town of Huanta, 625 miles northeast of Lima.

Flight Plan?
The Association of Baptists for World Evangelism posted this copy of a plan on its Web site, which it said had been submitted to the authorities.
The mother and daughter were both killed by the Peruvian gunfire. Peruvians rescued the woman's husband Jim Bowers, 37, and son Cory, 6, as well as 42-year-old Donaldson, who suffered a crushed leg bone and severed arteries in his foot.

U.S. officials have said the incident was a departure from what they regard as a highly professional performance by the Peruvians in the anti-drug program.

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