Colombia search for missing children intensifies with discovery of footprints
A human footprint spotted in the Colombian jungle has given fresh hope on the whereabouts of four children missing following a plane crash in southern Colombia almost one month ago. (SOURCE: Colombian Army Handout via Reuters)
Four children who survived a deadly plane crash that killed their mother May 1 stayed alive for more than a month before their rescue in the Colombian jungle by eating cassava flour and jungle fruits, officials and family said.
The children, ages 13, 11, 4 and 11 months, were rescued Friday by Colombian soldiers who had been searching for the kids since the plane was found May 16 along with the bodies of the pilot, co-pilot and their 33-year-old mother.
The children are members of the indigenous Huitoto people, which likely helped them navigate the jungle and decide what berries to eat.
“When the plane crashed, they took out (of the wreckage) a fariña, and with that, they survived,” their uncle, Fidencio Valencia told reporters, referring to cassava flour eaten in the Amazon region. “After the fariña ran out, they began to eat seeds,” Valencia said.
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The children were rescued by the military on Friday. (Colombia’s Armed Force Press Office via AP)
Astrid Cáceres, head of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, also said they were lucky it was late spring when the jungle was “in harvest.”
The children were taken to a hospital in the country’s capital of Bogota where they are expected to remain for at least two weeks.
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“In general, the condition of the children is acceptable,” Defense Minister Iván Velásquez told reporters, adding that they were being rehydrated but could not eat solid food yet.
“The jungle saved them,” Petro, who met with the children in the hospital Saturday, said. “They are children of the jungle, and now they are also children of Colombia.”
They had been traveling with their mother Magdalena Mucutuy from the village of Araracuara near the Amazon River to San Jose del Guaviare when their plane crashed, killing all of the adults on board.
Officials praised the oldest sibling who they said had some knowledge of how to survive and jungle and led her younger siblings before their rescue. (AP Photo/John Vizcaino)
The pilot had declared an emergency, citing engine failure.
Despite not finding them at the crash site May 16, rescuers noticed clues they had survived, including footprints, diapers, a baby bottle and fruit that had bites in it.
They were rescued about three miles from the crash in a clearing near where rescuers had searched a couple of times but had missed them by hundreds of meters.
“The minors were already very weak,” Gen. Pedro Sanchez said of their rescue. “And surely their strength was only enough to breathe or reach a small fruit to feed themselves or drink a drop of water in the jungle.”
FILE – In this photo released by Colombia’s Armed Forces Press Office, a soldier stands in front of the wreckage of a Cessna C206, May 18, 2023, that crashed in the jungle of Solano in the Caqueta state of Colombia. The discovery of footprints on May 30 of a small foot rekindled the hope of finding the children alive after their plane crashed on May 1. Soldiers found the wreckage and the bodies of three adults, including the pilot and the children’s mother. (Colombia’s Armed Forces Press Office via AP, File)
The chidren’s aunt told a Colombian radio station the children are dehydrated with mosquito bites but are otherwise “fine.”
Around 150 soldiers were flown into the area to help search for the children with dogs. Dozens of indigenous volunteers also joined the search.
Soldiers in helicopters dropped boxes of food for the children and played a recording of their grandmother telling them to stay in the same place during the rescue effort.
The children told officials they had spent time with one of the rescue dogs, but then it went missing. The military was still looking for the dog Saturday.
Officials praised the oldest sibling who they said had some knowledge of how to survive and jungle and led her younger siblings before their rescue.
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Petro called the children an “example of survival” and predicted their saga “will remain in history.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.