Iquitos, Peru With a barge and a crane, authorities on Thursday prepared to raise the wreckage of a Cessna plane floating pontoons-up in the Amazon River after a Peruvian air force jet that mistook it for a drug flight shot it from the skies.
American missionary Veronica "Roni" Bowers and her 7-month-old daughter were killed in the April 20 attack that led to the suspension of a highly lauded U.S.-Peruvian program to force down suspected drug-smuggling flights.
Peruvian and U.S. Embassy officials left for the Amazon village of Pebas, about 625 miles northeast of Lima, to recover the craft. "They are going to try to recover the plane today. They've brought in a barge and a crane. Then we'll see what shape the plane is in," said Luis Hultquist, a representative of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism in the Amazon capital of Iquitos. Television images showed the single-engine Cessna half-submerged in the Amazon River, with its pontoons sticking out of the water. More than 12 bullet holes could be counted in its pontoons.
Meanwhile, U.S. assertions that Peru's air force shot down the missionary plane despite signs it was probably not carrying drugs received backing from an investigation by a respected Peruvian news agency.
A report by the private agenciaperu.com, broadcast Thursday on cable news station Canal N, cited unnamed Peruvian officials saying that a Peruvian air force colonel on the ground authorized the shoot-down despite the fact that the missionaries' plane was not flying a typical drug smuggling route.