Four children have been found alive in the Colombian jungle more than five weeks after the plane they were travelling in crashed in the thick jungle, Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro said.
The children from an Indigenous community were rescued on Friday by the military near the border between Colombia’s Caqueta and Guaviare provinces, close to where the small plane had crashed.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
The plane – a Cessna 206 – was carrying seven people on a route between Araracuara, in Amazonas province, and San Jose del Guaviare, a city in Guaviare province, when it issued a Mayday alert due to engine failure in the early hours of May 1.
Three adults, including the pilot and the children’s mother, died as a result of the crash and their bodies were found inside the plane.
The four children, aged 13, 9 and 4, as well as a now 12-month-old baby, survived the impact. They arrived in the capital Bogota early on Saturday for medical treatment.
Narcizo Mucutuy, the grandfather of the three girls and one boy, told reporters he was delighted at the news of their rescue.
“As the grandfather to my grandchildren who disappeared in the jungles of the Yari, at this moment I am very happy,” he said.
The children are members of the Huitoto people, and officials said the older siblings had some knowledge of how to survive in the rainforest.
Photos shared by Colombia’s military showed a group of soldiers with the four children in the middle of the jungle.
“A joy for the whole country! The four children who were lost … in the Colombian jungle appeared alive,” Petro said in a message via Twitter.
¡Una alegría para todo el país! Aparecieron con vida los 4 niños que estaban perdidos hace 40 días en la selva colombiana. pic.twitter.com/cvADdLbCpm
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) June 9, 2023
Petro initially reported that children had been found on May 17 in a message on Twitter but later deleted the post, saying the information was unconfirmed.
“They were together; they are weak. Let’s let the doctors assess them. They found them, and it makes me very happy,” Petro told journalists on Friday, adding the children had defended themselves alone in the middle of the jungle.
Rescuers, supported by search dogs, had previously found discarded fruit the children ate to survive, as well as improvised shelters made with jungle vegetation.
Planes and helicopters from Colombia’s army and air force participated in the rescue operation, called Operation Hope, which captured the imagination of Colombians.
“We did everything necessary to make the impossible possible, using satellites, using aircraft that launched messages, that launched food, that launched flyers, that launched hope,” General Pedro Sanchez, commander of the military’s joint command for special operations said at an air base in Bogota.
In photos shared by Colombia’s military, the four children appeared gaunt as they were being cared for by rescuers.
Al Jazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti, reporting from the Colombian capital Bogota, said that people in Colombia are calling the rescue of the children “a miracle”.
“President Gustavo Petro was among those who said it indeed was a magical day for the country,” Rampietti said, noting that the discovery of the children had come as a surprise as people were beginning to lose hope that they would be found alive.
“Different groups of Indigenous communities that live across the Colombian Amazon, and in other parts of the country, had joined this – unprecedented really – search and rescue operation. So, definitely, [this is] news that has the entire country here extremely happy,” he said.
During the search, in an area where visibility is greatly limited by mist and thick foliage, soldiers on helicopters dropped boxes of food into the jungle, hoping that it would help sustain the children if they found the supplies.
Planes flying over the jungle also fired flares to help search crews on the ground at night, and rescuers used megaphones that blasted a message recorded by the siblings’ grandmother, telling them to stay in one place.