BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Four indigenous children survived a plane crash in the Amazon that killed three adults, then wandered the jungle alone for 40 days before being found alive by Colombian soldiers.
News of their rescue on Friday brought a happy end to a saga that had captured the attention of many Colombians, a watch with ups and downs as searchers frantically scoured the rainforest for the young.
President Gustavo Petro celebrated the news on his return from Cuba, where he signed a ceasefire with representatives of the National Liberation Army rebel group. He said the children were receiving medical attention and he hoped to speak to them on Saturday.
The Air Force evacuated the children aboard a helicopter which used lines to lift them up because it could not land in the dense rainforest where they were found. He said the craft was heading to San Jose del Guaviare, a small town on the edge of the jungle, but gave no information on the youths’ treatment plans.
No details have been released on how the four siblings aged 13, 9, 4 and 11 months have managed to survive on their own for so long, despite being from an indigenous group who live in the remote area .
Petro called them “an example of survival” and predicted that their saga “will go down in history”.
The army tweeted photos showing a group of soldiers and volunteers posing with the children, who were wrapped in thermal blankets. One of the soldiers lifted a bottle to the lips of the smallest of the children.
The accident happened in the early hours of May 1, when the Cessna single-engine propeller plane with six passengers and a pilot declared an emergency due to engine failure.
The small plane fell off radar soon after and a frantic search for survivors began. Two weeks after the crash, on May 16, a search party found the plane in a thick area of rainforest and recovered the bodies of the three adults on board, but the small children were nowhere to be found.
Sensing they might be alive, the Colombian military stepped up the hunt and flew 150 soldiers with dogs to the area. Dozens of volunteers from indigenous tribes also participated in the search.
During the search, in an area where visibility is severely limited by mist and thick foliage, soldiers from helicopters dropped boxes of food into the jungle, hoping it would help provide for the children. Planes flying over the jungle fired flares to help ground search teams at night, and rescuers used loudspeakers that played a message recorded by the siblings’ grandmother, telling them to stay at the same location.
Rumors also emerged about the children’s whereabouts and on May 18, the president tweeted that the children had been found. He later deleted the post, saying he had been misinformed by a government agency.
The group of four children were traveling with their mother from the Amazon village of Araracuara to San Jose del Guaviare when the plane crashed.
They are members of the Huitoto people, and officials said the older children in the group had knowledge of how to survive in the rainforest.
After confirming the children had been rescued on Friday, the president said that for some time he had believed the children had been rescued by one of the nomadic tribes who still roam the remote strip of jungle where the plane went down and have little contact with the authorities. .
But Petro said the children were first found by one of the rescue dogs the soldiers took into the jungle.
Officials did not say how far the children were from the crash site when they were found. But teams had searched within 4.5 kilometers (nearly 3 miles) of the site where the small plane plunged into the forest floor.
As the search progressed, the soldiers found small clues in the jungle that led them to believe the children were still alive, including a pair of footprints, a baby bottle, diapers and diapers. pieces of fruit that appeared to have been bitten by humans.
“The jungle saved them,” Petro said. “They are children of the jungle, and now they are also children of Colombia.”