Both planes were initially operated under an $8.6 million Pentagon contract by California Microwave Systems of Maryland, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman. And they were being flown despite repeated warnings by veteran pilots that the mission was running untenable risks.
Those pilots, Paul Hooper and Doug Cockes, predicted that the single-engine Caravan would be unsafe for high-tempo missions over the Andes Mountains. After program managers on site in BogotÃ¡ dismissed their warnings, the pilots wrote letters in the fall of 2002 detailing their concerns to company officials, including Kent Kresa, then the chairman and CEO of Northrop Grumman. For their pains they were demoted, reprimanded, threatened with lawsuits, and, in their words, â€œpushed outâ€ of the program shortly before their predictions came tragically true. They consider themselves fortunate. â€œThe only reason those three Americans were captive on the ground for five years, and the reason why five of their colleagues are now dead, is the greed and incompetence of California Microwave and Northrop Grumman,â€ Hooper told me.
Bowden alleges that a U.S. company contracted to perform counter-drug missions in Colombia – California Microwave Systems of Maryland, a division of Northrop Grumman, knowingly used planes that werenâ€™t fit for the job.
One crashed in February 2003, and 3 of the American contractors on board were held hostage by the FARC guerrillas until July 2008. Another crashed the next month while on a search-and-rescue mission looking for the hostages, killing everyone aboard.
Bowden notes that Kent Kresa, the chairman of the company at the time, who ignored the pilots’ letters, is now the interim chairman of General Motors.