2001 Roni and baby Charity Bowers
die in plane shot down in Peru.
Updated 16:25 UT 21 April 2001 - [< photo:
The plane which was shot down]
Apparently mistaking American missionaries for
drug smugglers, Peru's air force said Saturday that it shot down their plane over
the Amazon River, killing a woman and her infant daughter. Three others survived
the shooting and the crash Friday morning, and members of their missionary, the
Pennsylvania-based Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, described the
drama that took place at the remote jungle site. The survivors told of how the
pilot, a veteran, second-generation missionary, was shot in the leg, mid-flight.
He then lost control of the flaming, single-engine plane before managing to guide
it into the river, where the survivors floated on the craft's pontoons for a half-hour
before being rescued by local villagers. "Apparently the Peruvian pilot mistook
it for an airplane transporting contraband drugs," U.S. Embassy spokesman Benjamin
Peru's air force issued a statement early on 21 April
confirming that the missionary's plane was shot down after it was detected at
10:05 a.m. local time by "an air space surveillance and control system" run jointly
by Peru and the United States. The statement did not offer further details. The
statement said the plane entered Peruvian air space from Brazil without filing
a flight plan and that it was fired on after the pilot failed to identify himself.
The Rev. E.C. Haskell, spokesman for the Baptist association, of New Cumberland,
Pa., said the plane was en route from the Brazil-Peru border to the city of Iquitos,
about 625 miles northeast of Lima, when it was attacked. Missionary Veronica "Ronnie"
Bowers, 35, and her 7-month-old adopted daughter, Charity, were both killed and
pilot Kevin Donaldson was wounded, he said. Also on board and unhurt were Bowers'
husband, Jim Bowers, 35, and their 6-year-old son Cory, said Haskell. The Bowers
are from Muskegon, Mich. and the Donaldsons from Morgantown, Pa., Haskell said.
The missionary group has worked in Peru since 1939, according to its Web site.
It helps found Baptist churches in the Iquitos area and other parts of the upper
Amazon, and sends missionaries into remote areas along the river's tributaries.
Donaldson's wife, Bobbi, said that her husband
guided the plane into the river, where it flipped over. Veronica Bowers was holding
her daughter on her lap when a bullet struck her in the back and then hit the
child, Mrs. Donaldson said in a telephone interview from her home in Iquitos.
Mrs. Donaldson said "there were two rounds of fire," and that the Peruvian jet
fighter continued to fire as the plane went down. The telephones were busy through
the night Friday night at the regional command in Iquitos, and there was no answer
Saturday morning at the defense ministry. Quoting survivors, Mrs. Donaldson said
local villagers brought the three survivors and two dead bodies to shore. After
her husband "filled one canoe with blood, they put him a speedboat to take him
for help" to a nearby jungle clinic, she said. He remained there Saturday morning.
The Bowers had been returning from Leticia, Brazil, where they had picked up a
Peruvian residency visa for Charity, Mrs. Donaldson said. She said another Peruvian
air force plane - called in by the jet fighter - had taken Jim Bowers, his son,
his dead wife and daughter back to Iquitos. Late Friday, Rev. Bill Rudd, the Bowers'
minister in Fruitport, Mich., said the family planned to return to the United
States on 21 April. Ziff said U.S. Embassy personnel had traveled to the crash
scene late on 20 Apris. Mrs. Donaldson quoted Jim Bowers as saying that during
the incident, he saw a plane flying nearby and that he believed it was an American
aircraft. She also quoted him as saying that he was kept by unidentified U.S.
agents for two hours in Iquitos before he was allowed to identify his wife's body.
"We don't understand. We would like some answers," she said. Ziff did not have
immediate comment about her statements.
A U.S. surveillance plane monitored the Peruvian
air force's downing of a plane carrying American missionaries mistaken for drug
smugglers, a U.S. Embassy official said on 21 April. The U.S. official, who spoke
on condition of anonymity, declined to say whether the U.S. aircraft provided
the position of the single-engine floater plane. But he said U.S. tracking planes
routinely pass along information to Peruvian authorities advertisement about suspicious
aircraft in the northern jungle region bordering Colombia and Brazil, a common
route for cocaine trafficking. "A U.S. government tracking aircraft was in the
area in support of the Peruvian intercept mission," he said in Lima. "As part
of an agreement between the United States and Peru, the United States provides
tracking information on planes suspected of smuggling illegal drugs in the region
to the Peruvian air force."
Between 1994 and 1997, Peru shot down about 25
suspected drug planes on their way to Colombian cocaine refineries from coca-growing
regions in Peru's Amazon. The actions were the result of former President Alberto
Fujimori's tough anti-narcotics policies in an effort to reducing trafficking
in coca leaf, the raw material used to make cocaine. In July, Fujimori said the
country would use its fleet of 18 Russian-made Sukhoi-25 fighter jets in the anti-drug
fight. The planes were originally bought after a brief border war with Ecuador
in 1995. Haskell said Kevin Donaldson grew up in Peru. Their group runs a theological
seminary, schools, a camp and a center for pregnant women.
Missionary Tragedy in Peru Second ABWE report.
2001 April 21 05:15 UT Jim and Roni Bowers and
children were on a return trip from the Peru-Brazil border where they were
taking care of Charityís visa situation. Due to the distance, they had
arranged for Kevin Donaldson to fly them in the ABWE plane, a Cessna 185.
All regulations were followed, such as a flight plan, remaining in Peruvian
airspace, and maintaining contact with the flight towers. The plane had
recently been refurbished and was in top condition and was well marked.
Just prior to 11:00 a.m. local time, Kevin radioed
the Iquitos tower with his position. Shortly thereafter, they were intercepted
by a military plane; shots were fired. Kevinís two legs were injured
and Roni and Charity were shot and killed. Kevin was able to land the float
plane on the river, saving his life and the lives of Jim and Cory.
Jim was able to get Roni and Charity unbuckled and
out of the plane. Cory jumped out of the plane and Kevin was able to
pull himself out. They were rescued by a Peruvian in a dugout canoe and
were taken to the clinic in the town of Pevas. Many of the believers
from the church came to meet them and to help them, getting Cory into dry clothes
and assisting in any way they could.
As of this writing, Kevin is still in the hospital
in Pevas. The Peruvian military, along with some US personnel, evacuated
Jim and Cory to Iquitos, along with the bodies of Roni and Charity.
The US consulate and embassy in Lima have been actively
involved and very helpful. They are in touch with Jim, as well as the families
in the US. They were scheduled to arrive late Friday night in Iquitos, along
with Peruvian military personnel in order to investigate the incident fully.
We are confident that they will come out with a complete statement of the incident
after investigations are completed.
It is Jimís intention to return with his son Cory to
Muskegon, MI, as soon as possible, where the funeral will take place. The family
would appreciate your prayers for them at this time of loss.
Missionary Tragedy in Peru - First ABWE report.
2001 April 20 20:30 UT Word has been received
from Iquitos, Peru that an ABWE plane was shot down by a military plane while
traveling from the Peruvian border to the city of Iquitos. The ABWE plane,
piloted by veteran missionary Kevin Donaldson, was able to make an emergency
landing. Pilot Donaldson was severely wounded in the leg and missionary passengers
Roni Bowers and her infant daughter Charity were both killed, according to
confirmed reports. On board also were Roniís husband Jim and son Cory both
of whom were reportedly not injured.