Successful search for Colombian children now turns to missing dog

Wilson, a missing Belgian Shepherd, has captured Colombia’s imagination after he was part of an Amazon rescue mission.

A brown dog stands in a forest
A rescue dog participates in the search for four missing Indigenous children on May 17, after their plane crashed in Caqueta, Colombia [Colombian Air Force/Reuters handout]

After four missing Indigenous children were discovered alive last week in Colombia, the search has since turned to another disappearance: that of the rescue dog Wilson.

The six-year-old Belgian Shepherd was part of the team that scoured the Amazonian wilderness for weeks searching for the children, who survived a deadly plane crash on May 1.

But two weeks ago, Wilson himself went missing and now that the children have been recovered and returned to safety, some of the soldiers involved have promised to continue combing the rainforest for the tracking dog.

“The search is not over,” the Colombian army said in a statement on Friday. It added it would not “abandon a fallen comrade”.

Wilson is credited with being part of the search party that reached the crashed Cessna 206, which was carrying seven passengers when its engine failed in May.

Three adults — including the children’s mother Magdalena Mucutuy — were killed in the crash. Her four children, the eldest 13 and the youngest only 12 months old, miraculously survived the impact.

But in an attempt to survive, they disappeared into the wilderness, leaving rescuers searching for clues as to their whereabouts. The newspaper El Tiempo has credited Wilson with finding a bottle belonging to the youngest child, Cristin, who was plucked out of the wreckage by her oldest sister Lesly.

But as Wilson used his powerful nose to follow the scent of the four kids, he too disappeared into the thick Amazonian jungle.

El Tiempo reports that the dog may have caught up with the children. Astrid Cáceras, the director of the Colombian Family Welfare Institute, said that the children described playing with a dog while navigating the forest.

Lesly also produced a drawing depicting a brown dog with colouring similar to Wilson’s.

“It had accompanied them for a while,” Cáceras said. But, she added, “they didn’t know where it went”.

As soldiers and Indigenous experts searched for the children, they too found evidence of Wilson. Paw prints were found near the small footprints attributed to the children.

A window is seen with the message "Falta Wilson"
Members of the Colombian public have offered support for the search, posting messages like ‘Falta Wilson’ or ‘Missing Wilson’ [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

On Tuesday, the Colombian military said it planned to continue Operation Hope — the name of the original recovery mission — with Wilson’s safe return as its goal this time.

“We are united to recover our canine commando Wilson from the jungle and bring him back,” the armed forces wrote on their Twitter page. “The Operation Hope of the Military Forces of Colombia does not end until he is found!”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies