After 40 days in the Colombian rainforest, the four children missing since their plane crashed on May 1 have been found alive, according to Colombia's president.
“They achieved an example of total survival that will go down in history,” President Gustavo Petro said at a press conference on Friday evening.
When rescuers reached the site of the plane wreckage last month, the bodies of the three adults on board were found, but no sign of the four children who were known to be on board.
In a case that captivated the nation, local indigenous people from remote areas, along with the Colombian military, started exploring the jungle for children aged 13, 9, 4 and 1 year.
The children were “weak” and receiving medical attention, said Mr. Petro.
The children were initially treated by combat medics from the special operations force deployed in the search, and then transferred to a military base in the city of San José del Guaviare, where they are in stable condition, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement. statement.
Early Saturday morning, several children were photographed carried on a stretcher from a plane that landed at the military airport in Bogotá, the capital. Domestic news media reported that the four later taken to a military hospital for treatment.
“We want to share the joy of all the Colombian people with the true miracle that we have known tonight,” Defense Minister Ivan Velásquez said in a video uploaded to social media.
It was not clear until Saturday morning who had found the children or how they had survived so long in the dense jungle prone to heavy rains and filled with jaguars and venomous snakes.
“This is a real miracle. This will be news for years to come,” said Pedro Arenas, a human rights activist in San José del Guaviare. “After 40 days, this is absolutely incredible news. So there is a lot of joy, really there is happiness.”
The children, members of the Huitoto Indigenous community, had traveled with their mother and an Indigenous leader from the small Amazonian community of Araracuara, Colombia, to San José del Guaviare, a small town in central Colombia along the Guaviare River. The pilot reported engine failure and declared an emergency before the plane disappeared from radar at around 7:30 am on May 1.
The Colombian air force and other military branches immediately deployed search and rescue aircraft and helicopters, as well as ground and river teams. Indigenous peoples in the region joined in the effort.
Using loudspeakers loud enough to be heard within a mile radius, they played recordings made by the children's grandmother in Huitoto, their mother tongue, telling the children to stay in one place and the people are looking for them. .
Conflicting details about the case have confused and angered many Colombians. On May 17, Mr Petro announced on Twitter that the children had been found alive. But the next day, she retracted the good news, saying that the country's child welfare agency, the Colombian Family Welfare Institute, had received misinformation.
Over the past few weeks, authorities have said they have reason to believe the children are still alive, pointing to footprints, diapers and shoes found in the search.
“They are fighting alone. It is their knowledge of Indigenous families, their knowledge of how to live in the forest, that has saved them,” said Mr. Petro at the press conference. “They are children of the forest. And now they are Colombian children.”
Federico Rios And Mike Ives reporting contribution.