Bogota.- After 17 days of wandering in the Colombian Amazon, eating jungle fruit and at the mercy of wild animals, four indigenous children who went missing after a plane crash were found alive by rescuers this Wednesday.
They are three children aged 13, 9 and 4 and an 11-month-old who have been missing since May 1, when the plane they were traveling in crashed due to an apparent mechanical failure.
President Gustavo Petro said on Twitter, “After difficult search efforts by our military forces, we have found alive the 4 children who went missing due to the plane crash (…) a matter of joy for the country.”
Led by the military, the search effort ended with a balance of three deaths, including the pilot and the mother of four brothers from the Hueto ethnic group.
More than 100 soldiers with sniffer dogs followed the trail of the minors and walked through the jungle between the departments of Caquetá, where the plane was destroyed on the front, and Guaviare, both in the south of the country.
Petro did not say where the children were rescued or how many kilometers they had managed to walk when they became lost.
The soldiers had found a “makeshift shelter made of sticks and branches”, so they suspected that there was at least one survivor.
Some scissors, hair ties, shoes, clothes and a bottle, located among the branches of the forest, served as a signal to the uniformed officers.
German Camargo, director of civil defense in the Meta department, told AFP they also found “harvested fruits of the forest” from which the bodies of the pilot and two passengers, located in the Caqueta department, were retrieved. ,
– From the ground and air – Huge trees up to 40 meters high, wild animals and heavy rain made the search difficult.
The Air Force joined in the so-called “Operation Hope” with three helicopters, which flew over the dense jungle for several days.
One of them had a speaker “capable of covering an area of about 1,500 metres” with a recorded message by the children’s grandmother. In the Huatoto language, the woman told her grandchildren that she was looking for them and asked them not to continue through the forest.
The authorities have not informed the reasons for the migration of the tribal family. According to the local press, the seventh passenger was a leader of that community.
In this difficult-to-access area by river and no highways, residents usually travel by private flights.
According to the Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the Huatotos live “in harmony” with the hostile conditions of the Amazon and preserve traditions such as hunting, fishing, and gathering wild fruits.
According to the official disaster response body, minutes before the crash, the pilot reported a problem with the plane’s engine.