Colombia awards medals for rescue of children 40 days in jungle

Colombian President Gustavo Petro also awarded medal to military rescue dog, Wilson, who went missing during the search for the children.

Colombia's Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez and President Gustavo Petro look at a dog who helped in the rescue of the surviving children from a Cessna 206 plane that crashed in the thick jungle, in Bogota, Colombia June 26, 2023. REUTERS/Vannessa Jimenez
Colombia's President Gustavo Petro, centre, looks at a military rescue dog at an award ceremony, in Bogota, Colombia, on June 26, 2023 for those who participated in the operation to find four children missing in the Amazon jungle for 40 days [Vannessa Jimenez/Reuters]

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has awarded medals to Indigenous and military rescuers who took part in an operation to find four children who were lost for 40 days in the jungle after surviving a plane crash in the country’s Amazon region.

The children, aged one through to 13, survived the crash that killed their mother, the pilot and another adult on May 1. The children were eventually found on June 9 by volunteers from the Indigenous Muruy people following a large and complex search operation.

“More than the medals, which are symbolic… the great prize, the great reward, is called life,” President Petro said at the ceremony in the capital Bogota on Monday where members of the rescue mission were given medals of the Order of Boyaca – the second highest distinction in the armed forces and the highest for civilians.

The children – Lesly, Soleiny, Tien Norie and Cristin, aged 13, nine, five and one, respectively – survived for weeks in the deep jungle thanks to skills they learned being members of one of Colombia’s Indigenous communities.

Petro said the children had been guided by “ancestral” knowledge and praised the collaboration with Indigenous members of the search team for “teaching all of Colombia how, being united, we can find life”.

“Now there is no debate about whether Western or traditional wisdom is more important,” Petro said of the rescue efforts. “Together, they brought the children back.”

Indigenous people who participated in the rescue of the surviving children from a Cessna 206 plane that crashed in the thick jungle participate in a ceremony led by Colombian President Gustavo Gustavo Petro, in Bogota, Colombia June 2,6 2023. REUTERS/Vannessa Jimenez
Indigenous people who took part in the rescue of the four children attend an award ceremony led by Colombian President Gustavo Gustavo Petro, in Bogota, Colombia June 26 2023 [Vannessa Jimenez/Reuters]

“The military with its satellites, and the Indigenous people with their potions – including ayahuasca – and invoking the spirits of the jungle, together, found life,” he added.

The children were reported to be recovering satisfactorily at a military hospital in Bogota.

A military rescue dog, Wilson, who went missing himself during the operation, was also awarded one of the medals. Though efforts to find Wilson continued after the children were found, his rescue is now unlikely, a military official told local media.

General Pedro Sanchez, leader of the rescue operation, said monuments would be built to remember the legacy of the six-year-old Belgian Malinois shepherd.

Wilson has not been seen since May 18, when he raced away from the search party following a scent. The military has said searchers followed Wilson’s paw-prints, which led them into the general area where the children were eventually found three weeks later by four of the Indigenous volunteers.

Source: News Agencies