- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

Americans and Peruvians on planes involved in the shooting down of an American missionary flight over Peru in April were plagued by poor command of Spanish and English, a videotape of the incident revealed yesterday.
During the one-hour chase of the plane on a rainy morning over the Amazon jungle, the American pilots of a radar plane repeatedly expressed doubts that the target plane was acting like a drug smuggler.
However, the Peruvian officer on board appeared to have poor understanding of their English — or the few words of Spanish the Americans attempted to use — and went ahead to order the plane shot down.
Missionary Veronica Bowers and her daughter Charity died.
"Even when you hear 'yes'" on the videotape, recorded by the pilot of the radar plane, "it does not mean it was understood," said Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law.
"Are you sure is bandito?" asks one of the American civilian pilots in the radar plane, three minutes before a Peruvian fighter shot down the missionary plane.
"Yes, OK?" is the response of the Peruvian officer aboard the radar plane.
However throughout the flight, the Peruvian says little more than "OK" and "yes" to complex questions and comments by the U.S. pilots, indicating a lack of ability to communicate between the Americans and the Peruvians.
"I think we're making a big mistake," says one American pilot, on the tape.
"I agree with you," says his American co-pilot.
Meanwhile, the Peruvian official at their side is radioing to the fighter permission to shoot down the missionary plane: "Phase three authorized."
A report released yesterday by Mr. Beers, of an investigation into the April 20 shooting down of the plane, concluded that due to stress and pressure of chasing a suspected smuggler plane, language became a barrier that led to tragedy.
"The language limitations of Peruvian and American participants — particularly under stress — played a role in reducing the timely flow of information, and comprehension of decisive messages related to the April 20 interception," the report said.
The aerial drug-suppression operation has been suspended since the incident, Mr. Beers said.
While there is no evidence of increased drug smuggling since then, Mr. Beers said there is concern of a resurgence in the future.
The U.S.-Peruvian aerial-interdiction operation has shot down 38 planes since 1995.
Mr. Rand said U.S. officials have no evidence that any of the downed craft, apart from the missionary plane, were anything but drug planes ferrying cocaine toward American markets.
The program was so successful that drug traffickers shifted their emphasis to overland and sea routes to get drugs into the United States.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide