BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Four Indigenous children survived an Amazon plane crash that killed three adults and then wandered on their own in the jungle for 40 days before being found alive by Colombian soldiers.
The announcement of their rescue on Friday brought a happy ending to a saga that had seized the attention of many Colombians, a watch with highs and lows as searchers frantically combed through the rainforest hunting for the youngsters.
President Gustavo Petro celebrated the news upon returning from Cuba, saying the children were getting medical attention and he hoped to talk with them Saturday.
The air force evacuated the children on a helicopter that used lines to pull them up because it couldn’t land in the dense rainforest where they were found. It said the craft was going to San Jose del Guaviare, a small town on the edge of the jungle, but gave no information on plans for dealing with the youngsters.
During the search, in an area where visibility is greatly limited by mist and thick folliage, soldiers on helicopters dropped boxes of food into the jungle, hoping that it would help sustain the children. Planes flying over the jungle fired flares to help search teams on the ground at night, and rescuers used speakers that blasting a message recorded by the siblings’ grandmother, telling them to stay in one place.
Rumors also emerged about the children’s wheareabouts and on May 18 the president tweeted that the children had been found. He then deleted the message, claiming he had been misinformed by a government agency.
The group of four children were travelling with their mother from the Amazonian village of Araracuara to San Jose del Guaviare when the plane crashed.
On Friday, after confirming the children had been rescued, the president said that for a while he had believed the children were rescued by one of the nomadic tribes that still roam the remote swath of the jungle where the plane fell and have little contact with authorities.
But Petro added that the children were first found by one of the rescue dogs that soldiers took into the jungle.
Officials did not say how far the children were from the crash site when they were found. But the teams had been searching within a 4.5-kilometer (3-mile) radius from the site where the small plane nosedived into the forest floor.
As the search continued, soldiers found small clues in the jungle that led them to believe the children were still living, including a pair of footprints, a baby bottle, diapers and pieces of fruit that looked like it had been bitten by humans.
“The jungle saved them” Petro said. “They are children of the jungle, and now they are also children of Colombia.”
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