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.
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“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.”
“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.