BOGOTA – In a remarkable turn of events, four Indigenous children who had been missing for over a month in the Colombian Amazon rainforest after a plane crash have been found alive.
President Gustavo Petro announced their rescue, calling it a “magical day” during a media briefing in Bogota.
“They are weak. Let’s let the doctors make their assessment,” President Petro added, emphasizing the need for medical attention for the children.
The president shared a photo on Twitter showing rescuers tending to the children in the jungle, with one rescuer holding a bottle to the mouth of the youngest child.
Petro expressed joy and relief in his tweet, stating, “A joy for the whole country! The 4 children who were lost 40 days ago in the Colombian jungle were found alive.”
Video footage shared by the Defence Ministry showcased the children being airlifted by a helicopter from the dense forest during the nighttime.
The children, belonging to the Huitoto Indigenous group, aged 13, nine, four, and one, had been wandering alone in the jungle since May 1 when the Cessna 206 they were traveling in crashed.
The pilot had reported engine problems shortly after takeoff from the Araracuara region, en route to the town of San Jose del Guaviare.
Tragically, the bodies of the pilot, the children’s mother, and a local Indigenous leader were discovered at the crash site.
Investigations revealed that the group had been fleeing threats from an armed group.
A large-scale search effort involving 160 soldiers and 70 Indigenous individuals, who possess intimate knowledge of the jungle, had been underway since the children went missing.
The challenging terrain and presence of predators and armed groups added to the complexity of the operation.
However, authorities received ongoing clues such as footprints, a diaper, and half-eaten fruit, indicating that they were on the right track.
To prevent the children from wandering further and becoming increasingly difficult to locate, the air force dropped 10,000 flyers containing instructions in Spanish and the children’s Indigenous language, urging them to stay put.
The leaflets also provided survival tips, and food parcels and bottled water were airdropped to sustain them.
Additionally, a recorded message from the children’s grandmother was played to encourage them to stay in one place.
The military reported that the children were found approximately five kilometers west of the crash site.
Huitoto children possess essential survival skills, including hunting, fishing, and gathering.
The children’s grandfather, Fidencio Valencia, expressed confidence in their ability to navigate the jungle.
President Petro, who had recently returned from Cuba after signing a six-month truce with Colombia’s last active guerrilla group, the ELN, highlighted the children’s resilience.
He commended the effective coordination between the military and Indigenous communities during the search, stating that it serves as an example for the country.
The defence minister, Ivan Velasquez, acknowledged the unwavering dedication of the various army units involved in the rescue mission and expressed gratitude to the Indigenous people who actively participated in the search.
The rescued children will be transferred to San Jose del Guaviare for immediate medical attention.
Depending on their assessment and condition, they may be transferred to Bogota, specifically to the military hospital, for further treatment.
The safe recovery of the Indigenous children after their arduous ordeal is being hailed as a testament to their remarkable survival skills and the collaborative efforts of search teams and Indigenous communities.
It is a moment of hope and resilience in the face of adversity.