The injured mother of four Huitoto Indigenous children who survived a May 1 plane crash in Colombia told her kids to “get out of here” before she died four days after the crash.
The children’s father, Manuel Miller Ranoque, said his 13-year-old daughter told him the severely injured Magdalena Mucutuy died in the jungle with her children beside her.
“Before she died, their mom told them something like, ‘You guys get out of here. You guys are going to see the kind of man your dad is, and he’s going to show you the same kind of great love that I have shown you,'” Ranoque told media on Sunday outside a hospital in Bogota.
Engine problems after takeoff
The children – aged 12, nine, five and one – had been travelling with their mother in a Cessna 206, a single-engine light aircraft.
The pilot reported engine problems minutes after taking off from an area known as Araracuara, deep in the Amazon.
The aircraft was scheduled to travel 350km (220 miles) to the town of San Jose del Guaviare.
The bodies of the pilot, the children’s mother and another adult were found at the crash site, where the plane came to rest almost vertically in the trees.
The children’s grandfather Narciso Mucutuy said in a video posted by Colombia’s defence ministry that Lesly, the eldest of the four, was responsible for rescuing the smallest child from the wreckage.
“When she [Lesly] looked and saw that her mother was dead, she saw the feet of her littlest sister where the three dead were and she pulled her out,” Mucutuy explained.
‘My mom is dead’
The children had been missing for 40 days in the Amazon before they were rescued and airlifted out of the jungle on Friday.
“I’m hungry” and “My mom is dead” were the first words uttered by the children upon being discovered, members of the rescue group said in a televised interview on Sunday.
Members of the group who found the survivors, who are themselves Indigenous, recounted the first moments after meeting the children.
“The eldest daughter, Lesly, with the little one in her arms, ran towards me,” said Nicolas Ordonez Gomes, one of the search and rescue crew.
“Lesly said: ‘I’m hungry,'” he said. “One of the two boys was lying down. He got up and said to me: ‘My mom is dead.'”
In a video released on Sunday showing the children soon after they were found, they appear emaciated from their time spent in the wilderness.
The youngest two children spent their birthdays in the jungle with Lesly guiding them through the ordeal.
Indigenous knowledge systems vital in saving children
It was in part the local knowledge of the children and Indigenous adults involved in the search with Colombian soldiers that the survivors were found alive despite the threats of jaguars and snakes and relentless downpours that may have prevented them from hearing calls from search parties.
The area is also home to armed drug smuggling groups.
The children ate seeds, fruits, roots and plants that they identified as edible from their upbringing in the Amazon region, said Luis Acosta of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia.
“The survival of the children is a sign of the knowledge and relationship with the natural environment that is taught starting in the mother’s womb,” Acosta said.
General Pedro Sanchez, who led the search operation, credited Indigenous people involved in the rescue effort with finding the children.
He touted the success as a “meeting of Indigenous and military knowledge” that had demonstrated a “different path towards a new Colombia”.
Army chief Helder Giraldo said rescuers had covered more than 2,600km (1,650 miles) to locate the children.
“Something that seemed impossible was achieved,” Giraldo said on Twitter.