The United States has suspended drug interdiction flights in Peru pending investigations into whether one flight contributed to the death of an American missionary and her infant daughter.
Muskegon, Mich., native Veronica "Roni" Bowers, 37, and her 7-month-old daughter, Charity, were killed and pilot Kevin Donaldson was wounded when their Cessna was shot down by a Peruvian aircraft Friday.
A U.S. surveillance plane monitored Peru's downing of the plane carrying American missionaries, a U.S. Embassy official said today.
"There was a US government tracking aircraft in the area in support of the Peruvian intercept mission," read an official statement from an embassy official in Lima. "As part of an agreement between the US and Peru, U.S. radar and aircraft provide tracking information to the Peruvian Air Force on planes suspected of smuggling illegal drugs in the region. U.S. government tracking aircraft used for this program are unarmed and do not participate in any way in shooting down suspect planes."
Was 'Rigorous Protocol' Followed?
The Embassy official's statement came after one of the three survivors reported that an American aircraft was flying nearby when the Peruvian jet shot down the missionaries' plane Friday morning.
A U.S. diplomatic source tells ABCNews that the Peruvians have a "very rigorous protocol," for intercepting suspect drug runners. This includes trying to radio, approaching the plane and wagging their wings to signal they are ordered to land, and firing warning shots.
American and Peruvian investigations are underway to see what exactly happened.
Since the early 1990s, Peru has been a key South American ally in the United States' war on drug trafficking. Once the world's leading producer of coca leaf, the raw material used to make cocaine, Peru supplied Colombia's Medellin and Cali drug organizations. Much of that cocaine went to the United States, the world's biggest consumer of the drug.
The Peru military has since shot down about 25 suspected drug planes on their way to Columbian cocaine refineries from the coca-growing regions of Peru's Amazon.
Pilot, A Second Generation Missionary
This is the second time the US has had a "situation" with Peru. In April 1992 the Peruvians shot down a US Air Force C-130 flying off the Pacific coast, claiming they thought it was running drugs.
Donaldson, a second-generation missionary, was shot in the leg during the fligh and lost control of the flaming plane before managing to guide it into Amazon River, where the missionaries floated on the craft's pontoons for a half-hour before being rescued by local villagers.
The missionaries' plane was en route from the Brazil-Peru border to the city of Iquitos, about 625 miles northeast of Lima, when it was attacked, said the Rev. E.C. Haskell, spokesman for the New Cumberland, Pa.,-based group, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelists.
— ABCNEWS' Barbara Starr, Alex Emery, Barbara Ritt, Brian Kennedy and Sophie Conover contributed to this report.