40 Days After Crash, a Stunning Find: 'The Jungle Saved Them'

4 Indigenous children, one a baby, survived in the Amazon on their own after plane went down
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 10, 2023 6:00 AM CDT
4 Kids Found Alive 40 Days After Plane Crash
In this photo, a soldier stands in front of the wreckage of the Cessna on May 18 that crashed in the jungle in the Caqueta state of Colombia.   (Colombia's Armed Forces Press Office via AP, File)

Four Indigenous children survived an Amazon plane crash that killed three adults and then wandered on their own in the jungle for 40 days before being found alive by Colombian soldiers. The announcement of their rescue on Friday brought a happy ending to a saga that had captivated many Colombians, a watch with highs and lows as searchers frantically combed through the rainforest hunting for the youngsters. President Gustavo Petro celebrated the news upon returning from Cuba, where he'd signed a ceasefire with representatives of the National Liberation Army rebel group, per the AP. He said he hoped to talk with them Saturday, and officials said late Friday that the youngsters were being brought to Bogota to be checked at a hospital. Officials didn't say how far the children were from the crash site when they were found, but the teams had been searching within a 3-mile radius.

An air force video showed a helicopter using lines to pull the youngsters up because it couldn't land in the dense rainforest where they were found. The air force said it was going to San Jose del Guaviare, a small town on the edge of the jungle. No details were released on how the four siblings, ages 13, 9, 4, and 11 months, managed to survive on their own for so long, though they belong to an Indigenous group that lives in the remote region. Petro called them an "example of survival" and predicted their saga "will remain in history." The military tweeted pictures showing a group of soldiers and volunteers posing with the children, who were wrapped in thermal blankets. One of the soldiers held a bottle to the smallest child's lips.

The crash happened in the early hours of May 1, when the Cessna single-engine propeller plane with six passengers and a pilot declared an emergency due to an engine failure. The small aircraft fell off the radar a short time later, and a frantic search for survivors began. Two weeks after the crash, on May 16, a search team found the plane in a thick patch of the rainforest and recovered the bodies of the three adults on board, but the small children were nowhere to be found. Sensing they could be alive, Colombia's army stepped up the hunt and flew 150 soldiers with dogs into the area. Dozens of volunteers from Indigenous tribes also helped search. During the search, in an area where visibility is greatly limited by mist and thick foliage, soldiers on helicopters dropped boxes of food into the jungle, hoping that it would help sustain the children.

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Planes flying over the jungle fired flares to help search crews on the ground at night, and rescuers used speakers that blasted a message recorded by the siblings' grandmother, telling them to stay in one place. The children had been traveling with their mother from the Amazonian village of Araracuara to San Jose del Guaviare when the plane crashed. They're members of the Huitoto people, and officials say the oldest children in the group had some knowledge of how to survive in the rainforest. As the search progressed, soldiers found small clues in the jungle that led them to believe the children were still living, including a pair of footprints, a baby bottle, diapers, and pieces of fruit that looked like they'd been bitten by humans. "The jungle saved them," Petro said. "They are children of the jungle, and now they are also children of Colombia."

(Read more Colombia stories.)

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