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Down in a jungle: 10 years ago, a Wadena native's plane went down in Bolivia

John Trosen, pilot

Ten years ago, on Sept. 28, 1998, the little Wings Of Peace, a Cessna 206 with seven people on board, flew out of village Cumumo toward Santa Cruz, Bolivia. They were never heard from again.

John Trosen, the pilot, was born in Wadena to parents Dirk and Phyllis Trosen. He graduated from high school in Wadena and played on the football team. He knew from the time he was 12 years old that he wanted to be a missionary pilot, his parents said this month.

After high school John went to Vennard College for theology, and from there straight to pilot's training, aircraft mechanics and languages. He married Japanese American Mazako, also a student at Vennard.

The other six passengers on that ill-fated plane were John's family, Mazako, 3-year-old Isaiah and baby Sophia, 8 months. Newlyweds Johnny and Lucy Mamani as well as World Gospel Pastor Juan Carlos Suazo, who pastored a church in Santa Cruz, made up the rest of the group.

John's parents as well as his six siblings knew his plane was missing within a few hours. Search planes and 100 people on the ground went into action.

The clutch of a Bolivian jungle has to be seen to be comprehended. Once a plane breaks through the solid canopy of leaves on trees more than 100 feet tall, crawling with vines growing everywhere, an object is swallowed up, never to be seen again. The jungle jealously guards its secrets so effectively lost planes almost always stay lost.

The Trosens agreed that they knew early on that John was a people person. He found ways to help folks he came in contact with when he saw a need. He was drawn to missionaries who visited his church, wanting to know every little detail. He was impatient with anything that kept him from the mission field.

When he was sent to Santa Cruz. John's plate was full, containing every last thing he sought for himself. Santa Cruz, with a population of 49,000, was beautiful, what a travel book called, "a veritable little gem nestled in a valley between the Western Mountain range of the Andes."

After learning of the tragedy, life for the Wadena Trosens was in limbo. Then they were asked if they wanted to fly with a minister from their church to Santa Cruz. They did. Trosens had only a few hours in which to get ready. Phyllis recalled: "I didn't have time to pack. I just flung what I thought we'd need in suitcases and we took off."

"A few days later we were standing in John's yard in Santa Cruz," Dirk said. "People were nice, friendly and helpful, but what to do? There was nothing to do but wait and pray."

When Dirk had a chance to ride along in a search plane, he took it. Recalling the jungle below, Dirk shook his head.

"If John went down in that melange, I knew we would never find him, barring some stroke of luck. The jungle is unforgiving, like the ocean, only instead of water it is leaves."

Phyllis said: "Standing in their comfortable little house in Santa Cruz, without them, was eerie. I could see traces of John everywhere."

While what happened is unknown and a mystery, nearly everyone mused what might have happened, the possibilities.

It was certain that John was an excellent pilot, especially where the mechanics of the planes he flew were concerned. He was dedicated, a caring man, and very particular.

Someone ventured John was physically fit, followed by the remark that anyone's heart may stop at any time. How about the plane? It was in top condition as far as anyone knew, yet, it was a piece of machinery, never 100 percent sure. Weather was a factor, with a disturbance that could have made trouble.

One possibility, almost too awful to mouth, is that John's bright little Cessna had to fly smack dab over one of the most productive and aggressive coca drug cartels in South America, the last stop before being funneled into Mexico. Like a host of others, John's plane could easily have been shot out of the sky. The Trosens may never know for sure.

Now, 10 years later, the plight of the missionaries is mentioned less and less. New tragedies claim the attention of nearly everyone except the folks in a neat house in a Wadena suburb, the Trosens.

Telling themselves John and his missionary wife, Masoko, died doing what they believed in and loved is, at best, a trite ending.

But it is all they will ever have.