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Mission Pilot Recalls Abduction--Flying Lessons His Ransom

November 29, 1987|LAURIE BECKLUND | Times Staff Writer

REDLANDS — It was every missionary's nightmare: a kidnaping by anti-government rebels.

But the man who ordered Dan Rogers' abduction in South America last month didn't want the missionary's life or his money or a ransom.

He wanted to learn how to fly. And Dan Rogers was to be his teacher.

The kidnaping occurred Oct. 30, when Rogers, a 33-year-old pilot with the Redlands-based Mission Aviation Fellowship, was on a routine flight carrying a doctor, a nurse and medical supplies into a remote village in the South American nation of Suriname, a former Dutch colony of 400,000 residents.

When Rogers landed his Cessna at Djoemoe, he and his passengers were confronted with a ragtag group of a dozen men with guns and knives--the Jungle Commandos.

"I basically knew who they were," Rogers said in an interview in Redlands on Tuesday. "I thought I knew what they wanted . . . the plane. They had captured commercial airplanes before."

Rogers had heard of the Jungle Commandos. Everybody in Suriname has heard of the Jungle Commandos. They're a small army of renegades fighting a small civil war against the military government that has ruled Suriname since it took power in a coup in 1980.

The United States has suspended aid to the government because of human rights abuses, including killings of villagers known as the Negro Bush people.

Many of the Negro Bush people are known to support Ronnie Brunswijk, 25, the leader of the Jungle Commandos.

The ragtag group that commandeered Rogers' plane released his two passengers, then took Rogers to their leader on Stoelmans Eiland, an island populated by fewer than 100 people at the confluence of the Marowijene and the Tapanahoni rivers, deep in rebel territory.

"Ronnie asked me if I wanted a can of pop and some rice," Rogers said. "He treated me like a guest. He told me he'd only need me a couple days."

Brunswijk allowed Rogers to radio home to his wife, Sylvia, in the capital city of Paramaribo. Then he was shown to a little house and given the run of the island.

'Two Weeks at Most'

"The next day, Ronnie said he'd need me a couple of weeks . . . that his hope was that within a week, two weeks at most, I could teach him to fly," Rogers said.

He said Brunswijk wanted to fly apparently to be able to move supplies and men around the country. Pilots, he said, aren't that easy to come by in Suriname.

Over the next week, Rogers said, he flew with the young rebel every day, trying to get him to watch his altitude, and correcting his airspeed. Rogers said his student landed nine or 10 times, and never without help.

"Ronnie was a disciplined student while he was flying," Rogers said. "Then after his lesson, he'd sit in a hammock a lot of the time. He didn't seem to be a very disciplined soldier. But he's personally very magnetic, very charismatic."

Soon, young Brunswijk wanted to start buzzing the airstrip.

"When a week was up, he said, 'Looks like I'm going to be able to fly pretty good soon so we can let you go in three or four days,' " Rogers said. "I said, 'Why don't you let me go in the morning?' "

And he did.

Rogers was put in a dugout canoe with an outboard motor and sent across a river to neighboring French Guyana--to freedom. Brunswijk kept the plane.

'Terrific Bounces'

But Brunswijk could have used those extra days of instruction.

When Rogers got home to the United States last week, he said, he heard his student had had some problems on his first solo flight.

"He apparently crashed on landing after I left," Rogers said. "I can just imagine his approach: He's too high, he reduces the power. . . . Very likely he had some terrific bounces." Brunswijk was not hurt in the crash.

Rogers said he later learned that he was released partly because of pressure from European-based supporters of the missionary effort. Missionary Aviation Fellowship is run by an international Evangelical Christian network that provides services in 22 countries.

Asked whether he plans to return to Suriname to begin his fourth year on missions there, Rogers said, "That's up in the air."

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