The Flight of Death

by Captain Bill

The Flight of Death

A guest post by Adrian Walker, “The Snake Whisperer”

On April 20th 2001, 35 year old American born Baptist missionary Veronica “Roni” Bowers, her husband James and their two adopted children, Cory, 6 and 7 month old Charity boarded a Cessna 185 float plane in Islandia, northern Peru following a brief visit to Leticia in Colombia, where they had been arranging documentation for Charity to obtain a permanent resident visa. The plane was bound for Iquitos but was doomed to never reach its destination.

Soon after departure the lack of a flight plan added to the fact that the flight was utilizing a path regularly traversed by drug traffickers, kindled the attention of both US based enforcement services and the Peruvian military, resulting in the Cessna being tracked by a Peruvian fighter Mirage and an American spotter plane. Following several failed attempts at communication via radio from the tracking aircraft the Peruvian fighter opened fire, sending the Cessna and its pilot and passengers into a fiery forced landing on the Amazon. However Veronica Bowers and daughter Charity had already perished as a result of a single shot which passed through the fuselage, struck Mrs. Bowers in the back and continued into the child’s skull. Pilot Kevin Donaldson suffered gunshot wounds to both legs yet still successfully negotiated the crash landing. Miraculously both James Bowers and son Cory were unhurt.

The incident created headline news around the globe at the time and came at the height of the American administrations so called ‘war on drugs’ which particularly emphasized South America as a major source of narcotics supply. It resulted in a temporary suspension of suspicious flights being tracked and also caused the almost overnight removal of a considerable number of CIA and DEA staff from Iquitos, many of whom were contracted employees recruited from business to supplement regular staff.

However for years controversy has swirled around the circumstances regarding the shooting with conspiracy theorists claiming the action to have been a George W. Bush distraction from drug related announcements at a looming conference in Latin America, others suggesting CIA incompetence or a Peruvian airforce crewed by trigger happy individuals who spoke poor English and thus misunderstood the American orders to stop shooting.

Much of this is mere speculation and in a number of cases, simply incorrect. The clear facts as established by more than one inquiry may be summarized as such –

No flight plan was lodged by pilot Donaldson.

The Cessna’s radio frequency was switched to channels whereby neither the military aircraft nor Iquitos airport could be heard.

Radio contact with iquitos airport was only made after the first shots were fired.

The Cessna pilot ignored gestures to descend made by the airforce pilot on at least two occasions.

These facts added to one apparently new shred of evidence, namely a claim made by a retired Peruvian airforce pilot that a brown bag was thrown from the Cessna window prior to the commencement of fire, may suggest that the American compensation package of $8M, distributed between the Bowers family and pilot Kevin Donaldson may not have been totally appropriate.

Whilst the truth may never fully emerge it is clear that the Peruvian military believe they shot down a plane involved in conveyancing of money to be laundered as the idea of bringing drugs from Colombia to Peru is ludicrous. On the other hand the laundering of narcotics revenue in Peru is widespread and has been for many years.

In summary the tragic events of the 20th April 2001 resulted in two unnecessary deaths, both of which should have been avoided had firstly the Cessna pilot taken all measures not to raise suspicion and secondly CIA operatives and their Peruvian counterparts acted in a more responsible manner and followed established procedures.

Thus the question remains as to whether the flight was in fact carrying money for laundering and when the evidence, or what was assumed to represent same, was thrown from the plane, the military took the last available action, however drastic. The mere fact that missionaries were aboard in no way provides a clue as to the truth. Missionaries are human and humans need money for survival. It may be speculative but both Peruvian and American sources were confident of the plane’s illicit activities, based upon evidence that may never become fully public.

The truth is out there but we may never know as those who do will either remain stoically silent or decline to inform media sources as to such information that was open to them.

The Flight of Death

A guest post by Adrian Walker, “The Snake Whisperer”

Disclaimer: The opinions and speculation of guest posts in this blog are not necessarily the opinions or speculation of Bill Grimes, or the Captain’s Blog.

More articles by Adrian Walker;

Ayahuasca, Eternal Life – A Skeptics Viewpoint;

The Road To Iquitos;

The Road To Iquitos, Part 2;

The Road To Iquitos, Part 3;

The Road To Iquitos, Part 4, Ups And Downs In Iquitos;

Bird Watching From Dawn on the Amazon;

Bedbugs And Their Ilk In Iquitos;

King Of The Boulevard, Iquitos Peru;

Iquitos, An Urban Ecology;

A Cautionary Tale From Iquitos;

Giant Anaconda –on Fact Or Fiction;

Golfing The Amazon;

The Amazon Toad;

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mike Collis March 6, 2013 at 8:54 am

I was in Iquitos when this happened and I was present 2 days later when the reporters from the L A Times & the N Y Times interviewed the peruvian colonel pilot about the incident in the Iron House restaurant.
He said he made 2 passes at the lowest speed his Mirage jet could handle past the Cesna. He looked into the eyes of the pilot and gestured to him with his hands to go down. The cesna pilot did not even acknowledge the existence of 2 military jets buzzing him. He never made any response to their radio calls or the radio calls from Iquitos tower.

The Colonel asked me if I thought that he (the Colonel who had 2 young children himself) was capable of shooting down a defenceless private plane without due cause. My answer was and still is No!

The missionaries were up to no good and they were using 2 little children as human shields.

This is my take on it, but I can change my mind if someone comes up with some compelling evidence to the contrary.

2 Steve March 6, 2013 at 9:04 am

When did misionaries ever do any good?. They are satans spawn and so let’s congratulate the dea

3 David Volkmann March 6, 2013 at 10:40 am

Who ever you are Steve, you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. Please elaborate on why you claim all misionaries are satans spawn and those that kill them without a trial should be congratulated. I am not saying this one isolated incident, not by the DEA but the Peruvian air force, was not justified.

4 Gart van Gennip March 6, 2013 at 10:56 am

So, why bring up this old and cold story again? I don’t see any new ‘facts’, apart from an unnamed retired Peruvian airforce pilot who has something to say (to whom?) about it. Let it rest.

5 eduardo o'shee March 6, 2013 at 11:09 am

A member of the Cessna’s crew was footaged from one of the attacking airplanes dropping a big sack (presumably carrying money or some other incriminating contents.) from the side door of the aircraft. I watched that footage on a Colombia tv network in Leticia, in 2002, though I never saw it on Peruvian tv.

6 Paul Opp March 6, 2013 at 11:34 am

Wow, Steve, that’s a little harsh from those of us who have dedicated our lives to the plight of the suffering. You are painting with a rather broad brush wouldn’t you say?
I would be happy to spend some time with you and perhaps show you for the first time in your life, the work of volunteers/missionaries who are Sacrificially here to help those with very few options…Perhaps you would like to get involved in the lives of people who were not as fortunate as you.
As far as the plane? Here is a concept to consider. Pretty much every plane that takes off needs to land somewhere. How about we follow the next one and check things out when it lands? Or, do you think the Cessna had a longer flight range than the fighter jet?
I am not a military strategist but I am pretty sure they could have let it land somewhere and if the three adults “escaped” into the jungle with two small children, and left an airplane behind, because of illegal activity, I am sure there is a government official somewhere that could quickly find a need for a slightly used airplane. What do you think?

7 Eddie "Lalo" Calderon March 6, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Here is the real reason why the Bowers were in Peru.
If you were to die tonight and stand before God and
He were to ask you, “Why should I let you into my Heaven?”
What would be your response?
The Bowers were here to help the Peruvians in Iquitos
and the indigenous people along the rivers to answer
that question. Here is what the Bowers were doing…
First of all, we must understand that man is sinful, that all have
fallen short of the glory of God.
Rom 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
No one is exempt. We are all sinners. All sinners need a saviour, and that is why God sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross, for all of our sins.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I Corinthians 15:3-4 Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
It says in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”
We must personally accept Him, Jesus Christ, as personal saviour.
In John 1:12 it says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”
This is not merely a mental belief…
James 2:19…”You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!
You must put your trust and faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour.
It’s not by any of our own works.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
In Romans 10:9,10 it says, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Maybe now is the time for you to accept Jesus as your personal savior.
Revelations 3:20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
Jesus may be knocking on the door of your heart right now.
Accept Him as your Personal Lord and Saviour and look for one of us
missionaries for prayer and follow-up on your faith.
Remember, when you stand before God in judgement day
your friends, that are probably laughing at this, will not be standing by your side. You will stand by yourself in front of the Creator of the universe to account for why you didn’t accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour.
There is nothing illegal about that. And that is what the Bowers were doing in Peru. The message of Jesus Christ!
God bless you and have a nice day!
Eddie “Lalo” Calderon

8 John March 6, 2013 at 8:55 pm

I am A pilot, I am an American. Since 9-11 2001 everyone knows not to enter a foriegn country flying a plane without permission or you will be shot down.
Pilots, especially in S.A. have always known this.
No flight plan/No flight
Drugs or money or whatever is not relevent
The Peruvian pilot was Justified
The fault of the cesna pilot is evident.
I was there at Phil’s Party and I saw the Video

9 Neil G March 7, 2013 at 8:08 am

To Gart,
You say “Why dig up this old story?”. It is old Gart but questions have never been answered and probably never will. Perhaps we can come to some conclusion by consensus in this forum.

Did the pilot register a flight plan or not?
Was there a package thrown from the plane?
Did the pilot acknowledge the pilot of the jet fighter flying along side?
Did the pilot acknowledge the radio calls from both the fighter and the tower?

Answer these questions and the next question will be ” Why did the US Government pay $8,000,000 in compensation.

To Lalo, Please give us some facts not sermons. Thank You

10 Mike Collis March 7, 2013 at 8:40 am

To Paul Opps,
The Pilot of the Mirage told me that their Mirage jets can only stay aloft for about 45 minutes maximum, so yes they did need the Cessna to land immediately or they could have lost it.
I think the Cessna pilot knew this and thought he could outrange them. He was right about that, and that was his downfall.

11 Peter Gorman March 7, 2013 at 9:48 am

BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE

According to US officials, the April 20 downing of a missionary plane in Peru—first identified as a drug plane by CIA contract pilots—was the result of a series of blunders on the part of the Peruvian military. But that story doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Was there actually a secret strategy behind the deadly disaster?

by Peter Gorman

Veronica “Roni” Bowers had everything to live for. At 35, she was happily married to a man she’d met while attending Piedmont Bible College in Winston-Salem, NC, and working with him as a missionary team in Peru. They traveled up tributaries of the Amazon around the jungle city of Iquitos in their houseboat, ministering to a flock in some of the most remote villages in the region. She and her husband, Jim Bowers, 37, were the proud parents of a six-year old son, Cory, and they’d just adopted a beautiful baby girl they’d named Charity.
It’s not the life for everyone, but it was for the Virginia-born Roni. She’d gotten the call to be a missionary when she was only 12, and spent years readying herself for the hardships ahead. When she met James, whose parents were missionaries before him, she knew she’d found her soul mate. Jim had been raised in Brazil and Peru until he was 18, and hoped to return to South America for his missionary work.
Jim and Roni were married in 1985, while still in college. He joined the army shortly thereafter and the Bowers found themselves living in Germany for much of his service. When he was discharged in 1990 they returned to Winston-Salem to finish school and graduated together in 1993. Shortly thereafter, Jim got his wish and the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism assigned them both to Peru. The Bowers moved to Moskegon, MI, the hometown of Jim’s mother Wilma, to begin raising funds for their upcoming adventure. In 1994, they headed into the northwest Amazon.
It wasn’t an easy life: the region is blisteringly hot and perpetually humid, malaria is rampant, and creature comforts not readily available. Still, people who knew them in Iquitos say they were rarely without a smile. Cory, raised in Iquitos and on the river, was the joy of their lives. And their joy only grew when they adopted Charity last December.
Everything was going well for the Bowers. Even the slight inconvenience of having to leave Peru this past mid-April to renew a visa for Charity seemed a blessing: they took the opportunity to fly over the region where they worked in their mission’s plane, a Cessna 185. Their pilot, 42-year-old missionary Kevin Donaldson, was an old friend who’d been working in Peru for 15 years. Their plan was to fly to Islandia, a jungle outpost at the confluence of the Amazon and Javari rivers. As Islandia is the point at which Peru, Brazil and Colombia are separated only by river crossings, they would land in the Javari, catch a taxi-speedboat to the Colombian city of Leticia, take care of the paperwork, enjoy a night in town, then head back the following morning.
They left Iquitos on Thursday morning, April 19, and got Charity’s visa squared away as planned. Then on Friday morning, April 20, with Donaldson at the controls, they took off from the river at Islandia. Jim sat in the co-pilot’s seat. Roni, holding Charity, sat next to Cory in the two rear passenger seats. The two-and-a-half hour flight, nearly due west, would take them along the broad, brown band of the Amazon. On either side of the river, dense jungle dotted with occasional village clearings stretched out for hundreds of miles. Thick clouds of condensing moisture rose from the trees as the sun beat down on the forest below.
What no one in the little Cessna knew was that the US Department of Defense had a drug surveillance plane in the region. It was manned by three former US-military men who were under private contract to the Central Intelligence Agency and one active Peruvian Air Force officer. Their job was to search for planes they suspected of carrying drugs.
At 9:43 AM, the surveillance plane notified the US-controlled radar station at Iquitos’ Morona Cocha military base that the plane the Bowers were in had crossed three-to-four miles into Brazilian territory before returning to Peruvian air space. That made it worth investigating. US officials say the American crew then asked Peruvian authorities to determine if the craft had filed a flight plan. When told it hadn’t, the Peruvians authorities decided to launch an intercept and attempted to make radio contact. Neither Donaldson nor Jim Bowers heard anything unusual from the tower in Iquitos, despite being in constant contact with the air controller there. Neither Donaldson nor the Bowers thought anything was amiss—until they were nearly two-thirds of the way home.
About 100 miles east of Iquitos, Donaldson, unaware they were being followed by the Pentagon’s Cessna Citation—or that the Citation was directing a Peruvian fighter jet to intercept them—gave the tower in Iquitos his location and asked for clearance to land on arrival. It was approved.
Within minutes, Donaldson saw a military jet. According to official Peruvian reports, he asked the control tower what they wanted and got no response. The jet momentarily disappeared from view. The next thing he knew, they were being fired upon. Donaldson frantically shouted into the radio: “They’re going to kill us! They’re going to kill us!”
By then it was already too late: the plane had been repeatedly hit by machine gun fire from below to the rear. A fire instantly broke out in the cockpit when an electrical wire was sheared. Jim Bowers grabbed the extinguisher and tried to put it out. Flames shot out the cockpit windows and scorched the wings—which double as fuel tanks—risking explosion. Donaldson knew his only chance was getting the plane down as quickly as possible. He put it into a near-dive for the water below. As he approached the river he began to lose control; he didn’t realize a bullet had nearly shattered one of his legs, costing him control of the foot pedals needed to land. Nonetheless, he somehow managed to make an emergency landing. Jim turned to help pull his family free—and discovered that Roni and Charity were dead. A single bullet had passed through Roni’s back and heart and into the baby’s head. It would later be determined the only bullet that entered the plane from the side. The rest entered from below.
Once in the water, the listing, flaming plane tipped over, its pontoons in the air. The survivors clung to the pontoons while the bodies of Roni and Charity floated nearby.
Family members of the survivors would later testify the Peruvian jet swooped down and continued firing on the plane even while it was in the water.
Phil Bowers, Jim’s brother, would tell the Associated Press after an official debriefing session in Iquitos (at which two US DEA agents were also present): “The planes kept swooping down and shooting…even after the crash.” Kevin Donaldson’s wife, Bobbi, repeated the claim in a separate interview.
A short time after the dramatic landing, a local in a canoe came from the nearby town of Pevas and brought the survivors to shore, with the bodies of the dead.
The story didn’t make the news until the following day. President Bush, attending the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Quebec, commented: “We mourn for the loss of the life, two lives” in the incident.
The program that ultimately led to the loss of those lives has been in place—with periods of interruption—since the early 1990s. It is an element of the joint US-Peruvian strategy to stop the air-transport of basta, coca base, from Peru to the refining labs in Colombia. US surveillance identifies possible drug smuggling planes and alerts the Peruvian authorities. An intercept is made and a determination follows. If it is determined that the plane is indeed a potential drug smuggler, a second determination is made on whether to force it to land or to shoot it down.
Until now the program has been lauded as a great success. Officially, Peru has shot down 30 planes since the program’s inception, and forced down another 64. All were reportedly carrying drugs or money from drug sales. Unofficially, the numbers are considerably higher. According to a Mr. Fernandez, who works for the Director General De Avions Seville, the Peruvian FAA, and the man brought in to identify the source of the fire aboard the downed plane, “Peru has shot down 30 planes in the last six months and all have contained drugs. There have been no other mistakes.” His comment was made to a HIGH TIMES photographer who was on the scene counting the bullet holes in the downed plane.
When news of the shootdown hit the US, it was treated as a tragedy, but officials wanted to distance themselves from it as quickly as possible. One of the earliest reports came from the Miami Herald, in which an unnamed US official claimed there was no indication that US radar had any role in the attack. By mid-afternoon the US was acknowledging that the surveillance aircraft was ours in a classic double-speak when a Pentagon official told a Washington Post writer that “the [surveillance] aircraft was not operated by any of the five US military services.” That afternoon another anonymous US official told AP reporters that “an unarmed US government tracking aircraft was in the area and provided location data for the subsequent intercept mission that was conducted by the Peruvian Air Force.” Later that same day, a US government official said the missionaries’ plane was considered suspect because it was operating without a flight plan in airspace frequented by drug runners. “Peru, which had the responsibility to identify the plane’s intentions under a long standing agreement, mistakenly decided that it was carrying drugs,” the official said.
On Sunday, April 22, CNN reported that the US Customs Service and DEA—normally two of the outfits who do airplane surveillance work in Peru—denied owning or contracting the plane. Pentagon officials told CNN it was not a US military plane. When asked by CNN if the CIA had anything to do with it, the CIA refused to comment.
By Sunday afternoon, the CIA had finally acknowledged to a Reuters’ reporter that the plane was carrying its contract pilot and crew, but even then the US wanted to take no responsibility for the shootdown. Pres. Bush, commenting from the Summit in Quebec, said: “Our role is to help countries identify planes that fail to file flight plans. Our role is to simply pass on information.”
But the UPI that same day reported that “the Peruvian officer aboard the US aircraft…told the Peruvian jet to move to ‘phase two’ [to fire warning shots] of its intercept procedure, and then quickly requested permission to move to ‘phase three’ [a shootdown].
A State Department official rebutted that story immediately: “We are not in the chain of command and intentionally so. We are not in a position to direct counter drug operations.”
Another US official told the UPI that “the US crew repeatedly expressed their concern that the nature of the aircraft had not been determined. Despite serious concerns raised by the US crew, the shootdown was authorized by Peruvian authorities.” A third US official who requested anonymity told Reuters that “a US interdiction aircraft whose crew was in touch with the Central Intelligence Agency tried to stop the shootdown and that Peru overruled.”
Peru objected to being placed at blame and Peruvian Air Force spokesman Commander Rommel Roca told the AP on Monday, April 23 that “the only thing I can tell you is that the [Peruvian] Air Force followed the procedures. It regrets this lamentable accident in which two people died.”
Peruvian Prime Minister Javier Perez de Cuellar, the former UN secretary-general, also defended the Peruvian military in the shootdown. On Tuesday, April 24, in his government’s first official response to the US allegations that the shootdown was Peru’s fault, he said, “For the time being, it would be hasty to say that the Peruvian Air Force is responsible, or that the pilot of the [missionary] airplane was responsible.”
The US continued and continues to lay the blame for the shootdown on Peru: By Thursday, April 26, the CIA had debriefed the American crewmen aboard the surveillance plane and concluded they handled their role properly. Said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-ALA) after his second briefing in three days on the matter by CIA director George Tenet, “He saw basically nothing that our people had done was questionable or wrong.”
So the US version of the story to date is this: The US plane, operated by CIA-contract agents, spotted a suspicious plane and alerted the Peruvian authorities to the possibility that it was a drug plane. The Peruvian air tower in Iquitos mistakenly told the US crew that the Bowers’ plane had not filed a flight plan, compounding the suspicions that it was a drug plane. The interceptor jet then tried to reach the Bowers’ plane on the radio but only tried military frequencies, which the Bowers’ were not on. The Peruvians then seriously breached military protocol by shooting down the plane while the US plane heroically and frantically tried to call them off. In sum: The deaths are tragic, but the fault lies with the Peruvians who made multiple errors and seriously breached standard protocol for the situation.
That story does not hold up to scrutiny and only raises several questions.
First: The shooting occurred more than 160 miles from the original sighting. The Bowers’ Cessna 185 has a top speed of 130 mph. In this case it was probably slower as it was near full-load with five passengers. Which means it took 80-90 minutes to reach the intercept point. The Peruvian fighter jet was a Cessna A37B, which has a flight speed of 507 mph. Taking off from the military airport in Iquitos, it could have made the flight to the intercept point at Pevas in about 15 minutes. So the first question is why did the intercept take place where it did and not closer to the Brazilian/Peruvian border?
To occur near Pevas meant the Peruvian jet either took more than an hour to take off, or the shootdown was purposely timed to occur at Pevas. That it took the Peruvian jet more than an hour to take off seems unreasonable given that the crew is on 24-hour alert for exactly the purpose of intercepting drug-smuggling planes. That the intercept was timed to occur at Pevas would mean it was intended that there be witnesses to the shootdown—Pevas is the largest city on the Amazon between Iquitos and the Brazilian border, with a population of about 4,000. It also has a Peruvian military base, the closest base along the Peruvian Amazon to the Putumayo River, which is the Peruvian border with Colombia and territory under the control of Colombia’s FARC rebels. The region is currently being militarily bolstered on the Peruvian side in anticipation of the, presumably, imminent start of Plan Colombia bloodshed which is anticipated to drive FARC rebels across the Putumayo onto Peruvian soil. But if the timing of the shootdown was planned to have it occur near Pevas and in front of witnesses, who stood to gain?
A second question involves the alleged attempts of the Peruvian fighter jet to reach the Bowers’ plane on the radio. That the Bowers’ radio was on and working has been confirmed by Mario Justo, Chief of Iquitos airport. The Peruvian government claims its jet pilots tried to communicate by radio with the Bowers’ on three separate frequencies during that time. But the Peruvians allegedly only tried to communicate on military frequencies. Why didn’t they try commercial frequencies even once during the entire 80-90 minutes it took from the time they were alerted to the Bowers’ plane’s existence until they shot it down? If the fighter jet was not equipped with commercial frequencies, why didn’t they relay a message through the Iquitos control tower? Was it simply a human error on their part? Or were they under orders or military protocol not to communicate with their target? Human error—simply forgetting to change frequencies—seems unlikely since these are professional military officers well-trained for this exact job. But if they were either under orders not to communicate with their target or following a military protocol not to communicate with their target, whose orders were they?
A third question relates to what occurred after the Bowers’ plane made its emergency landing in the Amazon. One wing was already on fire, according to both the survivors and witnesses on shore. Yet family members of both Bowers and Donaldson have said the Peruvians continued to strafe them after they landed. Why? It is certainly not normal military protocol unless they were being fired upon and that concept has not even been raised. Moreover, as there are no roads in the Peruvian Amazon there was no possibility of escape if the Bowers had turned out to be drug runners. So why fire on them while they languished in the river? Who ordered that? Were the Peruvians simply blood thirsty? Or is it possible they realized a terrible mistake had been made and were trying to ignite the Bowers’ remaining fuel to explode the wreckage and eliminate the evidence of the error?
A fourth question relates to the initial CIA contract team’s identification of the Bowers’ plane as a possible drug-smuggling plane. US procedures demand that US planes attempt to identify planes by their tail numbers. The Bowers’ plane’s number was clearly marked and the US initially did not answer the press’ questions regarding the issue. On Tuesday, April 24, several days after the shootdown, the Washington Post reported that US officials had explained that the CIA contract crew had breached its own identification procedures because they were afraid that the suspected drug plane—the Bowers’ plane— would flee the country if they got close enough to read the tail numbers. The Washington Post further reported that the US claims the CIA contract crew gave the tail number-identification task to the Peruvians, and that they failed to follow through.
If the events unfolded the way the US claims, there are too many unanswered questions. The Bowers’ plane was well known around Iquitos: Donaldson had been there a long time and made regular flights from and to the city. Could the Peruvians really have simply shot the plane down on their own? Would the pilots risk their position, and very likely jail time, to shoot down the plane on their own? And even if they were authorized to shoot it down by someone, why would they risk their posts and jail time by continuing to strafe it once it was in flames on the Amazon?
And again, why in front of Pevas, a reasonably good-sized river town with a military base. There were hundreds of witnesses to the entire affair. If there was some unknown reason to want the Bowers’ or Donaldson dead—and the continued strafing once it was in the water suggests that may have been the case—why do it at Pevas? Between Pevas and the next town toward the Brazilian border there is a stretch of nearly 100 miles of almost nothing but tiny villages and a leper colony. The Peruvian craft certainly had the speed to intercept at any point along that stretch. Was there a purpose in making the intercept near the closest large town to the Colombian border and FARC territory? Was someone trying to make it look as though the plane was coming out of Colombia?
HIGH TIMES interviewed the DEA agent in charge of Iquitos—who, like almost everyone else connected with this story spoke only on the promise of anonymity—about these several issues and was told the whole episode was a mistake. Asked if this was the first plane every shotdown entering Peruvian airspace—since planes leave with drugs but enter empty or with cash—the agent, who was also the first US official on the scene after the emergency landing, confirmed that it was. “That’s the part I can’t figure out either,” he told HT. “Who the hell shoots down a plane coming in?”
“Were they strafed in the water?”
“No.”
“How come only one shot hit the plane from anywhere but underneath?”
“They came in from below and the rear.”
“How come so many of the bullet holes have entry and exit points that are vertical to the ground if they only shot from the rear?”
“I can’t answer that. Let’s call that privileged.”
“Did the US order the shoot?”
“It’s not always done that way.”
“Does that mean it’s sometimes done that way?”
“Let’s change the subject.”
One person who did speak on the record was retired DEA Agent Celerino Castillo, a Bronze Star winner in Vietnam who served as a DEA Agent in Peru from 1982-84 in a program that was a precursor to the current US drug-plane surveillance program. Castillo told HT, “I was in Iquitos and I flew on those shootdown missions. Nobody, I mean nobody, shoots down anything unless the CIA says so.” Castillo, who risked his DEA career for exposing direct CIA involvement drug smuggling from the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador during the Contra war, was emphatic about the US government’s control of all military operations in the region. “In those days we flew on helicopters and the Peruvian soldiers would lean out the window with FN rifles and blast holes from above drug smugglers’ planes. I was on those flights. Yes, the Peruvians did the shooting but it was always the US who gave the OK.”
Several Peruvian pilots involved with the program—who, again, spoke on condition of anonymity—concurred with Castillo’s assessment.
So very little of the official US story makes sense the way it was told, unless the Peruvians were completely at fault, either through utter incompetence or malicious intent. But if the official story is a phony, what might the real story be?
One important background event must be put into the equation at this point: On the day the Bowers’ plane was shot down the Third Summit of the Americas was opening in Quebec. With the exception of Fidel Castro, the head of every country in the Americas was present, including George Bush. It was Bush’s first Summit appearance, and he was pushing the ratification of the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement. In recent weeks he has also changed the name of Clinton’s Plan Colombia to the Andes Initiative and has been working hard to give it his own stamp. He has also just authorized several hundred million dollars more for the regional effort.
But just weeks before the summit, Uruguay’s President Jorge Batlle Ibanez proposed the worldwide legalization of drugs when he told the Washington Post, “Imagine the money you spend to impede drug traffic and imagine that huge amount of resources on education for the people who really need help.” Moreover, he had promised to lobby for drug legalization in a speech in front of all 34 heads of state at the Quebec Summit.
Given that as a background, could it be that the downing of the Bowers’ plane was a high-profile anti-drug/pro-Andean Initiative publicity stunt that went bad? Would it be a leap to imagine the CIA contract crew—which would be paid by the numbers of planes they intercept—was told it would be just terrific if they managed to intercept a drug-smuggling plane during the summit? Better yet, if it were a drug plane thought to be carrying drugs from the FARC rebels, the primary targets of Plan Colombia/Andean Initiative? The publicity that would generate would completely defuse Uruguay’s drug legalization message by tying drugs to violence and revolutionary movements in bright, bold letters. (In fact, much of the media time at the Summit was spent on the shootdown, while not a single US reporter noted Batlle Ibanez’ call for drug legalization or Mexico and Venezuela’s seconding of same.)
Now if that suggestion was made to the US-CIA contract crew and they thought they had a drug-smuggling plane when they caught radar-sight of the Bowers’ Cessna, all of the rest of the questions would be answered: The call was given to the Peruvian authorities to intercept and take down the craft. The location would place the shootdown in front of Pevas, ensuring witnesses and, because of Pevas being less than 60 miles from Colombian FARC held territory, the suggestion could be made that it was a FARC drug-smuggling plane. No radio contact was made because the order to kill was given in code by the US. When it was later determined that the Bowers’ plane was not a drug-smuggling plane the US desperately tried to call off the kill. But the order given, it could not be rescinded. Which would explain why the Bowers’ were strafed even after their emergency landing and while their plane was on fire. At that point it would be better to simply explode the plane to eliminate the evidence and give both the US and Peru more time to come up with credible and matching stories about the shootdown.
Asked if that would be within the scope of US dirty tricks, Castillo said, “I agree that everything that happened with the missionary plane was made to happen in the time period to offset the Uruguayan president’s remarks. That’s how the US does it. I only differ on one point: I think the CIA set out to shoot down a missionary plane knowing it was a missionary plane. I believe the scenario was set up to frighten tourists and other Americans out of the region so that there will be fewer witnesses to the war that is going to happen there. And I think there will be other incidents to follow that will prove that point.”
Either scenario would also explain why the US story has changed daily since the shootdown. Either scenario would also explain why Peru says it is not at fault in the incident. But neither will bring Roni and Charity Bowers back to life.

12 Scott Humfeld March 7, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Peter – Thanks for posting this. Yesterday when I read Adrian’s article I knew it was so full of errors and I remembered you had written on this subject and Googled and found BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE. I was living in Pevas when this occurred and when I heard that “some Americans had been in an air crash” I went over to the clinic to see. There were National Police and Military all over the place and they turned me away.

13 Peter Gorman March 7, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Scott: There are still people who will pretend this was an accident. BS. The biggest clue for me was when the two DEA agents in Iquitos at that time got a call at about 7:35 AM–just having a morning beer–that they had to been in Pevas by 10:30 for a drug plane shoot down. They needed to take pictures but confiscate everyone else’s cameras. SO they were called hours before the shootdown at my bar and told to get to the shootdown point to control things. Man, It simply doesn’t get any richer for an investigative journalist than that.
And Donaldson’t wife screaming: They’re shooting them! They’re shooting them! while they listed in the water and the bodies of the dead floated by…and then the 76 shots I had a photographer take pics of about two weeks later while the plane was ostensibly off limits to everyone–every single shot but three were vertical, perfect vertical, from bottom to top of plane, proving the straffing in the water that Donaldson and his wife talked about.
And the fact that the flight plan had been posted two days earlier, and was saved in screenshots from that time, while the US CIA idiots were claiming there was no flight plan, and then the US blaming the Peruvians for their fuckup and the deaths of innocents, and the ridiculous story of “Someone said they threw a bag out the window…” Who is anybody kidding. What would have been in that bag? Drugs are exported, not imported into peru. Missionaries routinely carry tens of thousands of dollars that have been collected. DOnaldson and the Bowers used to drink sodas at my bar—this was the most bogus CIA op gone wrong to protect Bush from embarrassment–which meant Cheney devised it–That ever occurred. THis was classic fail on all levels of US ops–including my good friends in the CIA in Iquitos, my good friends in the DEA in Iquitos, my friends in Washington DC in the Pentagon. These guys just embarrassed themselves.
And I am right on this one. This one was waiting for an issue to happen–and I’d written about it two weeks before it happened, and then when it happened, it was laughable. I was ashamed to be a citizen if we were willing to kill civilians to make a political point and shut down discussion of drug legalization at the Summit of the Americas.

14 Scott Humfeld March 8, 2013 at 6:45 am

Peter – I certainly agree with you. You went to the trouble, as any professional journalist would, to actually investigate and not just throw out vague and provocative theories/”opinions”. This does have Cheney’s methods written all over it. One of the most despicable government officials of all time.
The thing about “tossing a big bag out the window” is laughable as it would not be physically possible from that aircraft while in flight. I do give Mike credit for imagination for the “children as human shields” thing.
And…I do miss the Cold Beer Blues Bar.

15 Mike Collis March 8, 2013 at 9:01 am

OK then if there was a flight plan. This leaves the question about the parcel/ sack being thrown from the plane?
The pilot told me himself that he saw them throw a brown bag or parcel from the plane. Ed Oshea says he saw video showing a bag/parcel being thrown from the plane.

Scott of course you can open a door of a light plane travelling at about 130 mph, Not completely open, but enough to throw something out, parachutists do it all the time..

If there was a parcel, what was so incriminating inside it that it had to be dumped?
Drugs ?
Could be, they might have gone to Colombia to pass them on and the deal went wrong and they were bringing the drugs back.
Possibility? Of course Yes?
Money is more likely, cash from an illicit drug sale maybe?

I dont know the answer but it all looks “fishy” to me.
If it is true then they were up to no good, then the children were there to put on some show of innocence on their activities.

16 Mike Collis March 8, 2013 at 9:04 am

Peter, Are you expecting us to believe that you were privy to a conversation between DEA agents and you actually heard them say they were going to a shoot down later that morning?

They dont sound very professional to me.

AND, Peter I miss the Cold Beer Blues Bar very much too. Great times.

17 Scott Humfeld March 8, 2013 at 9:42 am

Mike – I disagree that you could open a door going 130 mph and sky divers don’t open a door to jump out, they remove the door before leaving the ground.
Of course the air force guy says he saw something thrown out…it’s part of the cover story. As far as Ed O’Shea seeing he saw something thrown out, well, here’s a link to that video. See for yourself (if you can get the video to download with the crappy internet connectivity we have here – now there’s something relevant for a blog post!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWZwqNhJyLI

18 mike collis March 9, 2013 at 9:19 am

Sorry Scott, wrong again. There have been numerous cases of people opening a door on aprivate plane and jumping out to commit sucide. I personally knew of a Gulf War veteran who went up with a friend of mine and unexplicable jumped out at 12,000 feet.

Scott I have put the case to some people here ( who will not comment on this blog) about the videos and all they say is “Film can be edited”. Things, like sound can be added and footage can be deleted.
I know Ed Oshea very well, I think you do too, he is ex Argentinian Military Intelligence. He said he saw the video with the parcel going out of the door but in Peru that part was deleted. I believe him but you dont, right.

What went on that tragic day Scott?

19 Scott Humfeld March 9, 2013 at 9:58 am

Ah, jeez, Mike, how can you say “wrong again” when you just changed the parameters? You originally said parachutists open a door to jump out (which is not correct) and now you start talking about suicides. (I also know a great deal more about suicides than you do and suicide by jumping out of an aircraft is extremely rare.)
I never said Ed O’Shea (whom I don’t think I know) didn’t see something thrown out, I said look at the video. I make videos so I know what is possible, but if you look at that video the size of the aircraft itself is very small so to see anything thrown out it would have to be awfully large.

Cambio y fuera.

20 Peter Gorman March 9, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Mike: Privy to a conversation? I was the bartender, remember? I was told more stuff by DEA, US Military, DynCorp pilots spraying poison on Colombian crops, Peruvian military, the big boat captains: Everybody needs a priest and the guy serving the whiskey is generally the most trusted person around.
Remember, for a lot of folks, when I ran the bar, I was the person who got them safely home at night, or kept quiet about a girl they were dating, or made them sleep at the bar for their own good, held their wallets when they went to a whorehouse–and sometimes called their wives back home (from the phone down the street) to say that “so and so just wants me to tell you that he loves you very very much…” In return for that confidence, which I don’t believe I ever betrayed, they would unload their souls to me.

21 Mike Collis March 11, 2013 at 11:04 am

OK Scott, I stand corrected.
Parachutists do have the door removed.
I said a friend of mine committed suicide by jumping out of a private plane I also said he was a Gulf War veteran, sorry he was a Faulklands War veteran. Also I said that my friend jumped out at 12,000 feet. Sorry, I was wrong again it was 5,000 feet.
By the way it was a Cessna 172.

This is the link to one of the many newspaper articles written about this tragic event;

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-93990/SAS-veteran-5-000ft-suicide-leap-plane.html

Of course I dont expect you to check it out, so here is a copy of the Daily Mail article in its entiretly;

SAS Veteran in 5,000ft Suicide Leap from Plane
by REBECCA ENGLISH AND SUSIE BONIFACE, Daily Mail
• e
A man who plunged 5,000ft to his death from a light aircraft was a former SAS officer who had been decorated by the Queen, it emerged yesterday.
Charles Bruce, 46, an expert skydiver, had served in the Falklands War and in Northern Ireland.
He died on Tuesday afternoon after leaping from a Cessna 172 being flown by his friend Judith Haig, who was being questioned by police yesterday.
The pair had joint ownership of the plane and were returning from a trip to Spain. They had been forced by bad weather to land in France, refuelled and taken off on a final leg to Northamptonshire.
But the Cessna’s wings began to ice up in clouds. A police source said: ‘It seems that Mr Bruce panicked for some reason.
‘Miss Haig saw him suddenly slide his seat right back and undo his seatbelt. She realised he was going to do something dangerous and grabbed hold of him but he pushed open the plane’s door and went out head-first. She made an immediate emergency radio broadcast.’
The body of twice-married Mr Bruce, who had a son, Jason, was found on a football pitch in the village of Fifield, Oxfordshire.
Miss Haig, 30, diverted to RAF Brize Norton, where the plane is being inspected by air accident investigators.
Detective Inspector Simon Morton, who is leading the police investigation, said: ‘The pilot has told us about the sequence of events. She is distraught and devastated following the tragedy.
‘The investigation is still in its early stages and there are a lot of inquiries to be made before we reach a conclusion.’
Mr Bruce, who joined the Parachute Regiment in 1973 aged 17, had been battling mental illness for almost a decade.
He was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal in 1986 for his heroism in Northern Ireland, but claimed he was forced to leave the SAS two years later after being told he ‘was not a team player’.
He took up sky- diving as a hobby and went to work as a professional bodyguard. He was employed by comedian Jim Davidson, who became a friend.
Last night Mr Davidson said: ‘I am devastated. We met when he was working on a show at which I was entertaining the troops.
‘We became very good friends and he worked for me for two or three years. I feel like I have lost one of my best mates.
‘He was the man that everybody loved. He was a great soldier, a great family man and a great and loyal friend. He was one of the loveliest men I have ever known.
‘He could fly aeroplanes and helicopters and he was an expert skydiver. I have never known him to run away from anything and I just can’t understand what happened.’
A close family friend said: ‘Charles was a lovely man and a brilliant soldier. This is a terrible tragedy.
‘He had tried to commit suicide before, and had been struggling with mental illness for many years.
‘He was convinced that either his experiences in the SAS caused it, or that his brain had been unbalanced by his attempts to sky-dive from great heights.’
In a harrowing autobiography, Freefall, published under the pseudonym Tom Read, Mr Bruce told of his battle with mental illness and how in 1994 he tried to kill his then girlfriend, Anna.
He became obsessed that she was going to kill his son and stabbed her repeatedly with a pair of scissors until he was dragged off her.
She forgave him and no charges were brought.
He embarked on a course of drug therapy and in 1996 married his second wife, Livvy, a mother of two. In his book, Mr Bruce told of the horrors he had experienced during his days in the SAS.
‘I saw sights that most people would not believe,’ he wrote. ‘In the Falklands I saw dead men so deformed that their own mothers wouldn’t recognise them – boys of 18 who had tried to slit their throats because they had been so badly burned.’
He also told how his emotions were affected by the deaths of colleagues, some killed by the IRA.
‘I had always assumed that my training would protect me from the weakening effects of feelings and emotions. Perhaps, I wasn’t so tough after all,’ he wrote.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, he confessed that he was constantly battling to retain his sanity, saying: ‘I have come to the conclusion that I will always be haunted, that my life will always be interrupted by episodes of mania and depression.’
Mr Bruce was a close friend of Frank Collins, another SAS veteran, who became a vicar and wrote the best-seller Baptism of Fire. Mr Collins committed suicide in 1998.
Last night Mr Bruce’s mother, Penelope, said: ‘Charles was a great fellow. We are so proud of our son. He was not depressed as far as I know. It’s a complete mystery.’

Cambio y fuera!

22 Scott Humfeld March 11, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Mike – I respect that you had the cojones to correct your mistakes. I’m very sorry about your friend’s suicide. As I said, suicide by jumping out of an aircraft is so rare as to be statistically insignificant (except to the jumper), however, I personally know of a case of that myself.

23 Mike Collis March 11, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Thanks Scott,
Now perhaps we can get back to the matter at hand.
So you agree that it is possible to open the door of a Cessna while in flight. Therefore it is possible to throw a parcel/ package out of a Cessna
while in flight like the pilot of the fighter said and like Ed Oshea says he saw in the video.

24 Scott Humfeld March 12, 2013 at 6:40 am

Even if it were possible to open the door and throw something out (which I still disagree with) it doesn’t make any sense that that would have occurred; 1- one doesn’t fly drugs INTO Peru and 2 – if they had money there would be no reason to throw it out. Re-read what Peter had to say, that is the authoritative take on all this.

Cambio y fuera – and I mean it this time.

25 Mike Collis March 12, 2013 at 7:36 am

Bringing money into Peru that you cannot account for is a serious offence. If they had some it was, ditch it or go to jail.

Another question for Peter & Scott,

When they flew from Iquitos to Leticia why did they land and leave their floatplane in Islandia ?

Islandia, I am told, is some 2 hours by boat from Leticia.

Why did’nt they land at Santa Rosa which is only 10 minutes from their final destination..

I know there are customs and police personel in Santa Rosa but are there any in Islandia?

26 Eddie "Lalo" Calderon March 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm

To: Peter Gorman March 7, 2013 at 9:48 am
RE: BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE
Thanks for your article. Very well written.
God bless you!

27 adrian walker March 29, 2013 at 7:11 pm

“Lalo”, thank you for not delivering an additional sermon which was not required. You seem to be adopting the classic Christian position of accepting whatever is populist and doing so blindly. Peter Gorman has expressed an urban myth version of the story and that always gets press space. It’s worth noting that Easter is being celebrated at the moment and if one investigates its origins, they may be found in the Greek goddess of the dawn (rebirth of the day) Eos. Christians are good at adoption Lalo, but hopelessly short on fact.

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