BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Four indigenous children who disappeared 40 days ago after surviving a small plane crash in the Amazon jungle were found alive on Friday, Colombian authorities said, ending an intense search which gripped the nation.
The children were alone when searchers found them and are now receiving medical attention, President Gustavo Petro told reporters upon his return to Bogota from Cuba, where he signed a ceasefire agreement with representatives of the group National Liberation Army rebel.
The president said the youngsters are an “example of survival” and predicted their saga will “go down in history”.
No details were immediately released on how the youngsters managed to survive for so many days on their own.
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 for the children and sent 150 soldiers with dogs to the area to track the group of four siblings, aged 13, 9, 4 and 11 months. Dozens of volunteers from indigenous tribes also participated in the search.
On Friday, the military 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 Air Force later shared a video on Twitter showing soldiers using a line to load children into a helicopter which then flew away in the dark. The tweet said the plane was heading for the town of San Jose del Guaviare, but gave no further details.
“The union of our efforts has made this possible,” wrote the Colombian military command on its Twitter account.
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. Airplanes flying over the jungle fired flares to aid ground search teams at night, and rescuers used megaphones which broadcast a message recorded by the siblings’ grandmother, telling them to stay at the same place.
Rumors also emerged about the children’s whereabouts and on May 18 President Petro 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 had traveled with their mother from the Amazon village of Araracuara to San Jose del Guaviare, a small town on the edge of the Amazon rainforest.
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.”