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Miscommunication Blamed for Shoot-Down of Peruvian Missionary Plane

Aired August 2, 2001 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We begin in Washington. More than three months after Peru shot down a plane carrying U.S. missionaries, the two countries have completed a joint investigation into what went wrong. You'll recall they story: A Peruvian jet hunting drug traffickers shot down the plane in April. American missionary Veronica Bowers and her 7-month-old daughter Charity were killed in that incident. Her husband Jim and their son Corey survived, but the pilot of the downed plane suffered serious injury and the State Department is holding a news conference at this hour to announce the results of the investigation.

CNN State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel is there and joins us now.

What do we expecting to hear, Andrea, do you know yet?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Lou, we do.

According to this joint report -- this is done in conjunction between the State Department as well as the Peruvian government -- their conclusions, essentially, are that everyone is to blame and -- to a certain degree, including the U.S., the Peruvian Air Force as well as the Bower's plane, the single-engine Cessna.

We just got ahold of some video. In fact, it was taken onboard -- this is the u.s. surveillance plane; this is a plane that is chartered by the U.S. CIA in Peru. And they were taking video, as they do routinely when they are on their surveillance flights. And I'm told -- I have, as yet, to see this, Lou, but I'm told that you can hear a lot of exchange, both in English and in Spanish. It's apparently very excited. There's a lot of emotion involved. In fact, people are talking all at the same time.

And that was one of the conclusions of the State Department report, in fact: That because there was so much going on, there was so much confusion, that the various messages were not getting through from the Peruvians to the U.S. onboard the surveillance plane, and also to the Bower's plane -- Lou.

WATERS: Andrea -- oh, we're going to listen to the tape, I guess.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Si, he's going to...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The plane is talking to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

(SCREAMING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell them to terminate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't shoot!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell them to terminate. No mas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No mas! No mas!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: In Peru -- In fact, I think that we just saw to the left of the screen there, the Bower's single-engine Cessna disappearing from the view of the surveillance plane.

This was a real tragedy. This joint U.S.-Peruvian drug interdiction program has been in place since 1985. And, in fact, it's been on hold now since April, since the shoot-down of the Bower's plane. And they're trying to review as to whether or not they want to put it back in place and, if so, Lou, what precautions they need to put in place to make sure that nothing like this happens again.

WATERS: That would have been my follow-up question to all of this. There was some argument within the United States whether or not the war on drugs is at the level it should be because of this incident. Has there been further debate in Washington about whether to continue U.S. policies in that part of the world?

KOPPEL: Yes, Lou.

I'm being told that we want to show some pictures as well of the site of the plane crash, where the Bower's plane went down. In fact, again, the pictures that you're seeing right now are onboard this leased plane that the CIA is onboard in this case. And they're looking right now at the Bower's plane, which is moving in and out of the target that they have in the center of their screen there. And what you'll also be seeing -- in fact, there's the plume of smoke just to your left there where, apparently, the Bower's plane goes down.

And I should also tell you that, according to a transcript that we've gotten, it was also -- the pilots onboard the plane, the U.S. pilots knew that a mistake had been made. In fact, you hear the Bowers' pilot -- this is a man by the name of Kevin Donaldson saying, they're killing me, they're killing us. This is all on this recording that we have.

And you hear the U.S. pilot saying, no, don't shoot; no more, no more.

But part of the problem was the fact that the Peruvian representative on the U.S. plane didn't speak very much English. And so he was not passing this on to the Peruvian Air Force which, as we saw there, ended up shooting down the Bower's plane by mistake, thinking that it was a drug-runner's plane. But, in fact, it was a missionary plane -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Andrea Koppel at the State Department.

This story is unfolding as we speak about it. Richard Boucher (sic) is conducting a news briefing now at the State Department about the incident. Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

RAND BEERS, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: ... east, who is a member of the team.

This report is the product of a joint U.S.-Peruvian accident investigation. It includes an examination of documents, interviews of participants and other relevant individuals, as well as field visits to Iquitos and Pucallpa. Cooperation between both sides was very good. Private discussions were quite candid.

The report is jointly drafted by several members of the team and was reviewed by all members of the team. In some cases, specific report language may suffer from being a committee draft in two languages. We apologize for that and are here to try to translate, if that's an issue.

That said, the conclusions are fully shared by both the Peruvians and Americans.

The documents which we are providing are the report and the video transcript. The report in the main presents a background section, a sequence of events for the 20th of April, and our conclusions.

The transcript, which is in English, is essential in order to hear the tape, because there is so much that's actually happening at several points on the tape. It records what is said in some cases in two languages, in some cases at the same time.

Let me now say for those of you who may choose to leave and seek to use the transcript and/or the tape, that the tape and the transcript can be misleading.

First, it is possible for more than one conversation to be going on at the same time. There are four communications channels, as well as a cockpit intercom, all of which may be recorded simultaneously. That said, the recording is done at the sensor operator station in the rear of the plane and some of the conversations which we know took place were not recorded or fully recorded because the sensor operator may have overridden them with his own conversations.

Second, not every conversation recorded was heard by every or even any member of the crew. Everyone wore headsets; everyone could deselect any channel and thereby not hear them. Some of the individuals who were highly focused on their tasks, particularly at the high stress moments during this flight, could have mentally tuned out some of the conversations. And anyone who was transmitting automatically overrode any of the other channels appearing on his earset at that particular time.

Finally, the English and Spanish language differences caused many or most of the non-native speakers to not understand conversations in the other language. And even if you hear a "yes" in response to that conversation, that does not mean that the person actually understood what was said to him if it was not said in his native language...

WATERS: The State Department Spokesman Boucher calling upon Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state, to explain the preliminary explanation, indeed, to this videotape that has been released along with the results of an investigation by the Peruvian and the American governments as to this incident in which a U.S. missionary was shot down in a drug interdiction incident.

We saw the tape a little bit earlier, but we're trying to pull together not only the tape and the results of the investigation, but what happened during the course of events here, when the plane with the U.S. missionaries onboard was in the sights of the pilots who shot it down amid some communication -- and now we're hearing miscommunication -- which led to a tragic result in which U.S. pilots were saying, "no mas, no mas," to the Peruvian pilots, meaning "no more, no more." But by then it was too late.

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