2001 Peru shootdown
While flying into Peru, Bowers, her infant daughter Charity, husband Jim, and six-year-old son Cory were being followed by a United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) observation plane which contacted the Peruvian Air Force to shoot the civilian plane down, believing that they were carrying drugs out of the country. The Peruvian Air Force was operating as part of the Air Bridge Denial Program. The CIA did not attempt to identify the tail number of church-owned plane per procedure.
Events leading to death
In a video released by the CIA, the CIA observers can be heard discussing whether the plane is a "bandido" (drug plane) or "amigo" (friendly). A CIA officer then tells a Peruvian Air Force official that it may be possible to have the plane land to check. The Peruvian Air Force plane then issues a warning to the plane for not having an authorized flight plan, but the pilot did not hear it because he was on a different frequency. As the Peruvian Air Force plane prepared to open fire, a CIA officer can be heard saying that the plane "doesn't fit the profile", and another CIA official says, "Ok, I understand this is not our call, but this guy is at 4,500 feet and he is not taking any evasive action. I recommend we follow him. I do not recommend phase 3 [shooting the plane down] at this time."
Later, a Peruvian official asks if "phase 3" is authorized, and the CIA official replies asking if he is "sure it's a bandido". The Peruvian official replies in the affirmative, and the CIA officer says, "If you're sure." The CIA pilot then says, "This is bullshit" and "I think we're making a mistake." The second CIA officer says, "I agree with you." A Peruvian Air Force plane approached, at which point the pilot of the Bowers' plane makes contact with the Iquitos Control Tower, noting that the Peruvian Air Force has showed up, and he is not sure what they want.
In the confusion, the CIA plane notes that the pilot Bowers' plane is in contact with the tower, but the Peruvian Air Force had already opened fire. The pilot can be heard yelling, "They're killing me! They're killing us!" The CIA officer says, "Tell them to terminate!" and another officer is heard saying "No! Don't shoot! No más! [No more!]" At this point, the plane is already on fire, and the CIA observed the plane crash into a river and turn upside down. A CIA officer remarks that if the Peruvian Air Force has a helicopter in the area, they should get it there to rescue them. The CIA plane then observes a boat in the river attempting to rescue the plane's occupants, and one officer says, "Get good video of this." Over the intervening several years since the incident, many had stated that the CIA "ordered" the Peruvian Air Force to shoot down the plane, when this is not the case.
After the event, the US government temporarily suspended the practice of advising foreign governments on shooting down planes over Peru and Colombia. The US Government paid compensation of $8 million to the Bowers family and the pilot. The program was discontinued in 2001.
According to a statement released by the CIA, CIA personnel had no authority either to direct or prohibit actions by the Peruvian government, and CIA officers did not shoot down any airplane. In the Bowers case, CIA personnel protested the identification of the missionary plane as a suspect drug trafficker.
A report by the CIA's inspector general (CIA-OIG) found that the agency had obstructed inquiries into its involvement in the shooting. Peter Hoekstra (the highest ranking Republican on the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence), who published these findings in November 2008, criticized the CIA for the "needless" deaths.
- Amanda Ripley (Apr 29, 2001). "A Mission Interrupted". Time. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- "CIA Video of Missionary Plane Shootdown". Retrieved 2010-02-03.
- "Roni and Charity Bowers". Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- "WorldWide Religious Network News -Peru Missionary Relives Plane Tragedy". Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- "Veronica Roni Bowers, 2001 People in the News". Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- Joanna Sugden (4 February 2010). "Veronica Bowers: the long fight for justice". London: The Times. Retrieved 2010-02-04.
- "CIA Statement on the 2001 Peru Shootdown". Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- Ross Colvin: CIA faulted in shooting down of missionary plane Reuters, 20 November 2008