Victims of missionary plane downing in Peru seek millions in compensation from U.S.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) A Baptist group, survivors and relatives of a missionary killed after a small plane was mistakenly shot down over Peru are seeking $35 million in compensation from the U.S. government.

The Pennsylvania-based missionary group's Cessna float plane was shot down by a Peruvian jet in April after a CIA-operated surveillance plane misidentified it as a possible drug-smuggling flight.

American missionary Veronica Bowers, 35, and her infant daughter, Charity, were killed. Her husband, Jim Bowers, and the couple's son, Cory, escaped serious injury. Pilot Kevin Donaldson, who sustained serious leg wounds, crash-landed the plane on the Amazon River.

Jim Bowers, Veronica Bowers' parents, Donaldson and the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism are jointly trying to reach a settlement with the government, said Donald Davis, corporate counsel for the missionary group.

A lawyer for the victims last met with officials from the CIA and the Justice and State departments in August, he said Monday.

''Since then we've not received any communication other than promises to meet again,'' Davis said. ''We have yet to receive any counteroffer or anything that might be a proposal.''

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., planned to meet with the CIA and State Department ''to answer the question, 'What's the holdup here?''' Hoekstra said.

''Our government and the Peruvian government collaborated in the shooting down of an innocent plane,'' he said. ''This thing needs to be settled.''

Bill Harlow, CIA spokesman, said the government is not seeking to delay. He declined further comment. A Justice Department representative referred inquiries to the State Department, which did not return a phone call.

While not assigning blame, a U.S.-Peruvian inquiry concluded that procedural errors, language problems and an overloaded communications system contributed to the downing. The U.S. crew later realized the flight was innocent, but couldn't stop the Peruvians from shooting.

A Senate committee recommended in October that the CIA no longer run drug interdiction flights over Peru, blaming errors by the Peruvian air force and poor U.S. management of the program.

The interdiction flights were suspended after the tragedy.

But the U.S. ambassador to Peru, John Hamilton, said earlier this month that the United States wants to resume drug surveillance flights and hopes to announce a date during President Bush's visit to Peru on March 23.