• 'Operation Hope' The general in charge of the search for children in the jungle of Colombia: "We have passed very close to them"
  • Colombia Accident in the Colombian jungle: "The children are alive and they will find them"
  • Miracle plane crash in the Colombian jungle: four children lost 40 days ago found alive in the Amazon

The relatives of four indigenous children who survived a plane crash and 40 harrowing days alone in the Amazon rainforest – in an extraordinary show of fortitude that captivated people around the world – are now fighting a custody battle.

The siblings, who range in age from 1 to 13, remained hospitalized Monday and are expected to remain there for several more days, a period Colombia's child protection agency is using to interview family members to determine who should take care of them after their mother died in the May 1 crash.

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The unpublished images of the rescue of children in the Colombian jungle: "My mother died"

  • Editor: AFP Bogotá

The unpublished images of the rescue of children in the Colombian jungle: "My mother died"

Latin America.

The army is still looking for the dog Wilson, key in the rescue of children in the Colombian jungle

  • Editor: AFP Bogotá

The army is still looking for the dog Wilson, key in the rescue of children in the Colombian jungle

Astrid Cáceres, director of the Colombian Child Welfare Institute, said in an interview with BLU radio that a social worker was assigned to the children at the request of their maternal grandparents, who are disputing custody with the father of the two youngest children.

"We are going to talk, to investigate, to understand a little what the situation is," Cáceres said, adding that her agency has not ruled out that they and their mother may have been victims of domestic violence.

"The most important thing at this time is the children, their health, which is not only physical, but emotional, the way we accompany them emotionally," he added.


On Sunday, Narciso Mucutuy, the children's grandfather, accused Manuel Ranoque of beating his daughter, Magdalena Mucutuy, and told reporters that the children hid in the woods when fights broke out in the family.

Ranoque acknowledged to the press that there had been problems at home, but considered that it is a private matter of the family and not a "gossip for the world."

Asked if he had assaulted his wife, Ranoque replied: "Verbally all of a sudden, yes. Physically very little, because we did more word fighting."

Ranoque said he has not been allowed to see the two older children at the hospital. Caceres declined to comment on why.

The children were traveling with their mother from the Amazonian village of Araracuara to the town of San Jose del Guaviare when the pilot of the single-engine propeller-driven Cessna plane declared an emergency due to an engine failure. Shortly thereafter the aircraft disappeared from radar, and the search for the three adults and four children on board began.

For more than a month, the children – members of the Huitoto indigenous ethnic group – survived by eating cassava flour and seeds, as well as some fruits they found in the jungle and already knew.

They were finally found on Friday and flown by helicopter to the capital Bogota, and then to a military hospital where they have been provided with psychological services and other support. The authorities have tried to do so in a manner consistent with their culture, ensuring that children are given food and perform spiritual ceremonies to which they are accustomed.

Horrific details

As they convalesce, the children have told their relatives horrific details about their time in the jungle. The eldest, Lesly Jacobombaire Mucutuy, said her mother was still alive about four days after the crash before she died, Ranoque said Sunday.

Having a safe environment so you can talk openly about your experience and any emotions you may be feeling, whether it's sadness or pride in having survived, will be crucial to your recovery, said Dr. Robert Sege, a pediatrician and director of the Center for Participatory Medicine at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

How children process trauma can vary by age, she added.

"Our brains are always trying to make sense of things," Sege said. "And if we're at different stages of development, the way we make sense of them is going to be different."

The plane was found two weeks after the crash in a thick area of jungle. The bodies of the three adults were recovered, but there was no sign of the children, raising hopes they might be alive.

Lesly guided her younger siblings

Soldiers in helicopters dropped boxes of food into the jungle, and some planes dropped flares at night to light up the terrain of rescuers searching day and night. Rescuers also used horns to broadcast a message recorded by the children's grandmother, telling them to stay in one place.

The children were finally found last Friday about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the crash site, in a small clearing in the jungle. Gen. Pedro Sanchez, who led the search effort in his capacity as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, said rescuers had passed within 20 to 50 meters (70 to 160 feet) of the site on a couple of occasions but did not see them.

Relatives and officials have praised Lesly for guiding her younger siblings through the 40 days they spent in the jungle, where snakes, poisonous frogs, mosquitoes and other animals abound. The youngest turned one year old while they were lost.

"God forbid that most teenagers are in a situation like this, but it's clear that she managed to stay calm and figure out what needed to be done," Sege said. "It's a really important thing to remember. Children, as they grow up, need to remember not only the tragedy, but how they kept the baby alive."

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