Europe 1 with AFP // Photo credit: Handout / Colombian Presidency / AFP 08:19, June 10, 2023

After wandering on their own for forty days in the Amazon jungle of Colombia, the four children aged 13, 9, 4 and one year, survivors of the crash of the small plane in which they were traveling, were found alive by local authorities.

"A miracle", "a joy for the whole country!". After wandering on their own for forty days in the Amazon jungle of Colombia, the four children aged 13, 9, 4 and one year who survived the crash of the small plane in which they were travelling, were found alive. "The four children lost 40 days ago in the Colombian jungle have been found alive," President Gustavo Petro said in a Twitter post accompanied by a photo of soldiers and indigenous people participating in the operation to find the siblings.

"Yes, the children have been found, but I need a flight or a helicopter to pick them up urgently," the children's grandfather, Fidencio Valencia, told AFP. "They were found by an indigenous of Araracuara who had been looking for them from the beginning, Henry Guerrero," said the grandfather, while several relatives of the miraculous cubs appeared in tears on national media. Originally from the Uitoto indigenous group, the children had been wandering alone in the jungle since the May 1 crash of the Cessna 206 in which they were traveling with their mother, the pilot and a relative. The three adults died and their bodies were found by the military at the crash site.

According to the military, rescuers found the children about 5 kilometers west of the crash site. "They are weak. Let the doctors make their prognosis," Petro told reporters. Photos released by the army show the children, among the thick vegetation, sitting on tarpaulins, surrounded by soldiers and natives giving them food and drink. They are in jeans and dirty long-sleeved T-shirt for the two biggest, feet wrapped in strips. Two others are swaddled in survival blankets.

Emaciated faces

The smallest, Cristin, is in the arms of one of her saviors. She turned one year old while wandering the jungle with her siblings, according to Colombian press. The four faces are serious, appear very emaciated. More than 100 soldiers accompanied by sniffer dogs and dozens of indigenous people had been looking for children between the departments of Guaviare and Caqueta since the discovery of the plane, vertically, their noses planted on the ground, in the middle of thick vegetation. According to the army, rescuers have traveled in total, in more than a month of searching, nearly 2,656 km in this impenetrable jungle, always "with an intact faith".

The chances of survival of children seemed to diminish day by day, in this very hostile environment where jaguars, pumas, snakes and other predators roam. Insects of all kinds are particularly voracious, and there is also the question of vital access to drinking water. The region is also an area of strong influence of the dissidence of the FARC, an armed group with which peace talks have recently broken down.

News of the children's disappearance had gone around the world, with videos and photos of the army's search operations, which followed their trail with the discovery of a bottle, scissors, shoes, diapers, chewed fruit, footprints and makeshift shelters. "Today was a magical day that, without a doubt, fills us with joy," insisted the Colombian president on his return from Cuba where the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the last guerrilla still active in the country, reached a six-month ceasefire agreement.

The children "were alone, they succeeded on their own. It is an example of total survival that will go down in history. These children are therefore today the children of peace and the children of Colombia," he said.

Wilson still not found

Gustavo Petro also praised "the effective coordination between the military and the natives" during the search, an "example of an alliance to follow for the country". "If the doctors advise to take them to Bogota or Villavicencio (center), it will depend on what they decide. I will try to talk to them in the morning," the head of state added. Wilson, a six-year-old Belgian shepherd dog who got lost in recent days during the search has still not been found, lamented the head of state. Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez paid tribute to the various units of the army, "unwavering and tiresome", as well as the indigenous people who participated in the search.

Army rescuers "immediately took care of and stabilized" the four siblings. They were to be transferred to San Jose de Guaviare (285 km southeast of Bogotá). "Tomorrow, according to their medical assessment and condition, we hope that they will be transferred to Bogotá, to the military hospital," the minister added.

These children, the eldest and smallest of whom are girls, are used to life in the jungle and know how to survive it, their relatives had assured. The Air Force had joined the rescue operation dubbed "Hope", with three helicopters. Using a loudspeaker on board an aircraft, a message recorded by the children's grandmother was broadcast. Satellite technologies had also been deployed to try to determine the path that children might have taken through the jungle.