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October 24, 2001

Photo by Alan Shoemaker
Cockpit of Downed Missionary Plane in Peru

Narco News 2001

Gorman's View from Peru:

Aftermath: the

Jungle Bungle

Joint US/Peru Report Lays Blame for

Shootdown at Missionary Pilot's Feet

By Peter Gorman

Peru Correspondent

An August 2nd report issued jointly by the US and Peru on the April 20 shootdown of a missionary plane in the Peruvian Amazon that was mistaken for a drug-running plane lays most of the blame for the mishap on the downed plane's pilot, Kevin Donaldson. Additionally, the report suggests that language problems, between the CIA-contract pilots of the surveillance plane that initially targeted the missionary plane as a drug plane and the Peruvians aboard the jet that did the actual shooting, contributed to the tragedy that left two Americans dead and the pilot seriously wounded.

The report: Peru Investigation Report: The April 20, 2001 Peruvian Shootdown Accident, was released by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. It was produced by a team of US and Peruvian officials.

Investigators for the interagency US team included representatives from the State and Defense departments, the US Interdiction Coordinator, and the CIA, whose pilots initially identified the plane as a possible drug-smuggling aircraft. Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, was US team
leader. The Peruvian investigators, led by Major General Jorge Kisic Wagner, Peruvian Air Force commander of operations, included members of the ministries of foreign affairs and defense.

According to the report, the investigation was specifically intended to, "Establish the facts and circumstances, including systemic or procedural matters, that contributed to the April 20 interdiction of the U.S. missionary floatplane, and the death of two U.S. citizens." The team was specifically prohibited from attempting to "examine misconduct or fix blame" for the tragedy.

Despite their directive against laying blame for the incident, the investigators repeatedly suggest that Kevin Donaldson, the pilot of the downed plane, had not filed a flight plan for his return trip from the Brazilian border to the Peruvian jungle city of Iquitos, and that this omission was what prompted the initial interest in his plane as a possible drug-runner. Though Donaldson has not spoken substantially to the press since his recuperation began, both his wife and the evangelical order he worked for have denied the allegation that no flight plan was filed.

Additionally, the report suggests that once the interdiction was set in motion, the constant talking among the pilots and their interpreter aboard the CIA-contract plane, and similar chatter aboard the Peruvian fighter jet, made communication frantic and subsequently impossible.

As we go to press, Kevin Donaldson, while still not talking with the press, has returned to Iquitos, Peru, with plans to continue his evangelical mission. Jim Bowers, whose wife, Veronica, and newly adopted daughter, Charity, were killed in the shootdown, is in the US and plans to continue his missionary work with Spanish speaking people there. HT recently spoke-on the condition of anonymity-with a member of Donaldson's immediate family in Iquitos, and was told that both Donaldson and Bowers were instructed by US officials that it would not be in their interests to either go public with their personal stories or sue the US or Peru for damages. In return, the plane that was shot down will be quietly replaced, generous financial considerations will be doled out without fanfare, and the Association of Baptists for World
Evangelism will be permitted to continue working in the region.

Don Davis, the corporate counsel for the ABWE contests that statement. "I believe it was the personal choice of both Kevin Donaldson and Jim Bowers not to speak out to the press. I don't believe they were pressured, though you know how it is in Peru: the laws are applied when they're applied and Kevin, at least, wants to continue working there, so it's probably in his best interests not to be too public."

When asked to confirm whether the US government would be replacing the downed plane, Davis noted that a claim for it, "as well as other expenses we occurred because of this," had been made with the US government, though "I don't know when or if they will make good on that claim."

Asked whether the Mission stood behind Donaldson's version of the story despite the official report laying much of the blame for the shootdown at his feet, Davis said, "Kevin Donaldson did everything he was supposed to do when flying in that region. We are very disappointed that the report disagrees with that. The fault certainly lies with the other planes-both the Peruvians and the CIA-who were involved in the incident."

Photo by Alan Shoemaker
The Pilot Didn't Fire the Bullet (seen alongside Plane ID #)

Pressed about whether Donaldson and Bowers were suing the US government over the shoot-down, Davis said he could not comment for them. "I believe that if the US makes good on the claims made there would be no need for a lawsuit. Let's say there is no need for a lawsuit at this time on the part of the survivors."


While the official report suggests that the lack of a properly filed flight plan, coupled with communications difficulties, was the primary cause of the tragic April 20, 2001 accident, it is difficult to avoid speculation as to the real reasons for the plane being shot down.

Shortly after the plane was downed, HT reported that given the timeline of events presented by the US government, the shoot-down must have been planned to occur where it did-at the largest city along the plane's route between the Brazilian border and its destination, Iquitos-to be somewhere press coverage was possible, but still out of the way of tourists.

The reasoning dealt primarily with the time between the missionary plane's first sighting by the CIA-monitor plane and the point of interception, given the speeds of the three aircraft (including the Peruvian Cessna AB-37 attack jet) involved.

That it was truly an accident also seemed far-fetched, occurring, as it did, on the night the Summit of the Americas was to open in Quebec. Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle Ibanez was going to call for the legalization of drugs, which would have made him the center of attention at the summit, and contrasted with US President George W. Bush's call for further resources to fight drugs in the region, along with further globalization of Central and South American markets. With that in mind, it seemed as though the shoot-down was intended to take the thunder away from Batlle and place it squarely back in Bush's hands, which it did. No major news outlet in the world covered the call for drug legalization, while nearly all spent the bulk of their reporting on the shootdown.

Since that time, however, events have suggested something even more nefarious is possible. After the shoot, all flights by US DEA and CIA-contract pilots to locate and identify possible drug-carrying planes in the region were suspended. Without anti-drug plane surveillance, the number of flights originating in both Peru and Colombia to carry unfinished coca-base to Colombian finishing labs and distribution points is thought to have increased dramatically.

At the same time, Colombia has launched its biggest offensive to date, what one general called "unprecedented," against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels in the country's south. But the FARC, while known to tax coca-growers, have no infrastructure for its distribution. Which suggests that while the offensive against the FARC is being reported as an assault on cocaine production, in fact, it may be a red herring intended to take press coverage off Colombia's north, where cocaine finishing and distribution takes place.

The question that comes to mind, therefore, is this:

Is the US capable of intentionally having a plane-particularly one known not to be carrying drugs-shot down, knowing that the subsequent investigation would halt all drug-interdiction flights in the region during a high harvest period for coca leaves, to insure that massive amounts of finished cocaine would get to market? The question seems awful on the face of it, but if the answer to it is "yes," then at least two major problems facing the US currently would be momentarily, at least, solved.

First, the enormous sums of money generated by a resurgent cocaine business in both the US and Europe would help bolster the sagging US economy, at least in the short term, as that money made its way from street-level black markets to international banking corporations and money-launderers. Secondly, as that same cocaine began flooding the streets of the US and Europe, it would help garner support among the public both at home and abroad for further military aid to Colombia and the surrounding region, support which until now has been sorely lacking in most public and private sectors.

Photo by Alan Shoemaker
The Bullet-Riddled Plane in its Hanger

This is a horrendous thought, and even if the State Department or CIA had wanted to execute such a plan, it would take more finesse and farsightedness than either has shown in recent years. Nonetheless, the fact is that the shoot-down in Peru has indeed shut down the drug-plane surveillance for several months, and informed sources claim that enormous quantities of cocaine are being stockpiled for release this coming winter. If this bears out, and if the flood of cocaine does indeed bolster the US economy while simultaneously generating political and public support in Europe and the US for increased military presence in Colombia and its neighbors, then it might not have been so farfetched after all.

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Shoot Down Lies, Not People