Missionary Floatplane Peru


Missionaries' Floatplane


By John Richardson



ne of the great tragedies in the history of the Amazon occurred when the Peruvian Air Force shot down a floatplane carrying missionaries and their children.  Acting on erroneous intelligence gathered by US government contractors that the plane was transporting drugs, the Peruvian Air Force opened fire on the plane and in the process, missionary Veronica Bowers and her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, were killed instantly by a single bullet that tore through the floor of the fuselage (see photo below).   Kevin Donaldson, the pilot of the Cessna 185 floatplane, miraculously made an emergency landing on the Amazon River, even though he was shot in both of his legs.  Despite the inferno that subsequently consumed the fuselage,  Veronica's husband, Jim Bowers and his six-year-old son, Cory, survived relatively unharmed.


Missionary FloatplaneThe subsequent investigation and scandal that followed called in to question both the US policy in the war on drugs and the Peruvian policy on shooting down suspected drug planes.  Despite the apparent shock and surprise among US policy makers as to the incident, a 1994 memo from U.S. State Department lawyers warned about the dangers of shooting down civilian planes allegedly carrying narcotics. The State Department lawyers wrote that downing civilian aircraft would violate international law. Moreover, they urged US government policymakers not to take part in Peru's anti-aircraft war. Apparently, their warnings went unheeded; Subsequently, the U.S. Government funded a multi-billion dollar counternarcotics effort with Peru and Colombia; the true cost in human lives and suffering may take years to become apparent.


Downed Missionary FloatplaneShooting down civilian aircraft is nothing new to the Peruvian Air force.  During the 1990s, Peru shot down at least 30 planes. The attacks had the temporary effect of closing the air bridge linking Peruvian coca leaf production with cocaine production operations in Colombia.  During the 1990s, Peruvian coca cultivation dropped dramatically, apparently because the raw coca could not be easily transported to market. However, by 2000 it became apparent that coca was being transported by alternative means and that efforts to intercept drug shipments were failing with coca cultivation dramatically increasing in Peru. Perhaps more importantly, world-wide coca leaf production greatly increased, as intelligence reports indicated the presence of huge new coca plantations in Colombia and Ecuador.

Shot Down Floatplane

Ironically, the missionaries' plane was shot down on the same night the Summit of the Americas was to open in Quebec, Canada where the President of Uruguay, President Jorge Batlle Ibanez, was scheduled to call for the legalization of drugs, a proposal that should have made him the focus of attention at the Summit.  With news of the downing of missionary's plane, Batlle's alternative policy for controlling drugs was completely ignored by the press with no major news outlet covering his call for the legalization of drugs.   However, nearly every news organization focused on the downing of the missionaries' plane, giving precedence to US President George W. Bush's message requesting more funds for the local military to fight drugs in the region.


Dave Kopel and Mike Krause, researchers at the Independence Institute, summarized the incident and its implications by stating, "In South America, the 'drug war' is no metaphor. It's a real, live shooting war in which civilians routinely become collateral losses. Usually, though, the victims are Latin Americans rather than U.S. Americans, and so the press pays no attention. The lives of these innocent bystanders, who don't even use drugs, are the price paid for our vain attempt to protect American drug users from their own foolishness."

The charred remains of the missionaries' floatplane are currently being stored near Iquitos.  If you are interested in viewing the remains of the plane firsthand, please contact the Iquitos News at info@iquitosnews.com

Amazonian Native Photo | Video

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Copyright 2004-2006 Dan James Pantone, Missionaries Floatplane Peru, all rights reserved.