After 17 days wandering in the Colombian Amazon, eating fruit and at the mercy of wild animals, four indigenous children who were missing after a plane crash were found alive Wednesday by rescuers.

They are three children aged 13, 9 and 4 and an 11-month-old baby who were missing since May 1, when the aircraft in which they were traveling fell apparently due to a mechanical failure.

"After arduous search efforts by our Military Forces, we have found alive the 4 children who had disappeared due to the plane crash (...) A joy for the country," President Gustavo Petro said on Twitter.

Led by the military, the search ended with a balance of three dead, including the pilot and the mother of the four brothers of the Huitoto 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 with the front part destroyed, and Guaviare, both in the south of the country.

Petro did not detail where the children were rescued or how many kilometers they managed to travel while they were lost.

The soldiers had found a "makeshift shelter made of sticks and branches," so they suspected there was at least one survivor.

Scissors, hair garters, shoes, clothes and a bottle located in the middle of branches of the jungle served as an indication for the uniformed.

They also found "bitten fruits of the jungle," German Camargo, director of Civil Defense in the department of Meta, told AFP, from where the rescue and extraction of the bodies of the pilot and two passengers who were located in the department of Caqueta were coordinated.

- By land and air -

Gigantic trees up to 40 meters, wild animals and heavy rains made the search difficult.

The Air Force joined the so-called "Operation Hope" withthree helicopters that flew over the dense jungle for days.

One of them carried a loudspeaker "capable of covering an area of about 1,500 meters" with a message recorded by the children's grandmother. In the Huitoto language, the woman indicated to her grandchildren that they were looking for them and asked them not to continue advancing through the jungle.

The authorities have not reported the reasons for the flight of the aboriginal family. According to the local press, the seventh passenger was a leader of that community.

In this region of difficult access by river and without roads, the inhabitants usually travel in private flights.

According to the Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the Huitotos live in "harmony" with the hostile conditions of the Amazon and preserve traditions such as hunting, fishing and gathering wild fruits.

The pilot reported engine problems minutes before the crash, according to the official disaster management corps.

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