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Investigation Concludes Language, Errors Caused Peru Plane Shootdown - 2001-08-02

A variety of errors and confusion - including language barriers - are being blamed for the accidental shoot down of a missionary plane over Peru last April that killed two Americans. That is the conclusion of a joint investigation into the incident conducted by the U.S. and Peruvian governments.

The small plane carrying five Americans was fired on by a Peruvian air force jet after a CIA surveillance plane flying nearby identified it as a possible drug flight. The incident claimed the lives of a Baptist missionary and her infant daughter, and raised questions about the wisdom of firing on suspected drug flights.

Assistant Secretary of State Rand Beers, who led the American team of investigators, said that after listening to cockpit voice recordings, he found that language barriers played a role in the mistaken shoot down. "You will in some cases hear a response that suggests understanding but subsequent action clearly indicates that that particular message was not at all understood," Mr. Beers said.

The joint U.S.-Peruvian report does not assign direct blame for the shoot down, but the investigation found that neither country had followed all the longstanding procedures in place to avoid such a tragedy.

All drug surveillance flights over Peru were suspended after the accidental shoot down. A broad review of a program is now underway to determine whether they should resume.