- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

LIMA, Peru A plane carrying American missionaries that apparently was mistaken for a drug flight and shot down over the Amazon had received clearance to land moments before Perus air force fired on it without warning, relatives said yesterday.
The relatives comments were at odds with a version by Perus military that the plane failed to identify itself and was flying without a flight plan in an area frequented by drug traffickers.
Missionary Veronica "Roni" Bowers, 35, and her infant daughter, Charity, were both killed by the Peruvian gunfire Friday, apparently by a single bullet that passed through the womans body and entered the childs skull as she sat on her mothers lap, her brother-in-law said.
The single-engine plane, which was being tracked by a U.S. counter-drug surveillance plane, had contacted the air tower in the jungle city of Iquitos and received landing clearance about 10 minutes before it was downed, said Richmond Donaldson, father of pilot Kevin Donaldson.
"Here was a plane following a regular route. Drug runners do not follow regular routes," he said.
"There was the contact with the tower that these other planes should have heard," the pilots father said. "They should have checked the planes numbering. It was just recently registered."
After being hit by the gunfire, the Cessna 135 crash-landed in the Amazon River near the jungle town of Huanta, 625 miles northeast of Lima. Peruvians rescued the pilot, 42-year-old Kevin Donaldson, who suffered a crushed leg bone and severed arteries in his foot; and the husband and son of the woman killed in the shooting.
The husband, Jim Bowers, 37, was debriefed by Peruvian authorities before returning home to North Carolina yesterday with the couples 6-year-old son, Cory. Mr. Donaldson was reportedly headed to a Philadelphia hospital for surgery.
U.S. officials announced late Saturday that drug interdiction flights over Peru were being suspended pending a full investigation.
A key dispute is whether the seaplane had a flight plan when it took off Friday morning from a section of the Amazon River where Peru, Brazil and Colombia are separated.
President Bush said yesterday that U.S. officials at the time of the attack had been helping Perus military identify possible drug smugglers by providing information, such as tail numbers for planes without a flight plan.
"Our role was simply to pass on information," Mr. Bush said in Quebec, where he was attending the Summit of the Americas.
A U.S. government official in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that an American anti-drug surveillance plane alerted Peruvians that the missionaries plane was operating without a flight plan in airspace frequented by drug runners. He said it was up to Peruvian officials to then identify the planes intentions and, he said, they mistakenly decided it was carrying drugs.
Under current agreements, Peru can use U.S. data only to attack a plane that is flying without a flight plan. 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.
The Peruvian air force said in a statement Saturday that the missionary plane entered Peruvian air space unannounced from Brazilian territory and was fired upon after Mr. Donaldson failed to respond to "international procedures of identification and interception."
Jim Bowers older brother, Phil, a trained pilot, disputed that version. "There was no communication. It happened very fast. The planes flew by first, did some swooping, and then came in from behind and started shooting," he said in Iquitos, 625 miles northeast of Lima.
Mario Justo, chief of Iquitos airport, told the Associated Press on Saturday that the plane had a flight plan and that its pilot was in radio contact with Iquitos airport control tower.
He later "clarified" his statement, saying a flight plan was not established until 10:48 a.m. when Mr. Donaldson radioed his position, about 45 minutes after Perus air force says the plane was first detected.

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