Four Indigenous children who had been missing in the Colombian Amazon rainforest for more than a month returned home to their families on Saturday, bringing a happy conclusion to a tense situation that had the country on edge.
An intensive rescue mission including sniffing dogs, helicopters, and aircraft led to the discovery of the twins, who had been lost in the bush after surviving a small plane crash.
According to AFP journalists on the scene, the children, who appeared pale and sickly, were flown to a military hospital in Bogota by an army medical plane. They are healing, but they are unable to eat solid food just yet, according to Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez, who visited them in the hospital together with President Gustavo Petro.
Lesly, the oldest at only 13 years old, led the two youngest children—now aged five and one—through the trauma while they celebrated their birthdays in the bush.
With her care and her in-depth knowledge of the forest, Velasquez remarked, “It is because of her, her value, and her leadership that the three others were able to survive.”
Indigenous individuals involved in the rescue mission were credited for finding the youngsters by General Pedro Sanchez, who oversaw the search operation.
“We found the children: miracle, miracle, miracle!” he told reporters.
“A joy for the entire nation”
The children, who are Huitoto Indigenous group members and are ages 13, 9, 5, and 1, have been missing in the bush since May 1, when the Cessna 206 they were in crashed.
Only a few minutes after taking off from Araracuara in the deep Amazon region on the 350-kilometer (217-mile) flight to San Jose del Guaviare, the pilot reported engine issues.
At the scene of the disaster, where the plane was practically vertical in the trees, the bodies of the pilot, the mother of the children, and a local Indigenous leader were all discovered.
According to officials, the party was escaping from threats made by members of an armed gang.
“They’re delighted to meet the family… Fidencio Valencia, the children’s grandfather, told reporters quickly after seeing them that they had all of their senses.
Valencia stated, “They are children of the bush,” and “they know how to survive in the jungle.”
He claimed that they “first survived by eating a little flour (that was on board the plane), then seeds.”
General Sanchez will be chosen as the youngest child’s godfather at their father’s request.
The obviously moved cop said on local media, “For me, it is an honor,” putting his palm over his heart.
Following the crash, a large search effort including 160 military and 70 Indigenous people who had firsthand knowledge of the jungle was started, drawing attention from all around the world.
Rescuers had traveled more than 2,600 kilometers (1650 miles) in all to find the kids, according to army chief Helder Giraldo. Giraldo wrote on Twitter that “something that seemed impossible was achieved.”
Petro shared a picture on Twitter of numerous adults caring for the kids while they were lying on tarps in the bush, some of whom were wearing military fatigues. The smallest child was being cradled in the arms of one rescuer as he held a bottle to his mouth.
He praised the achievement as the result of a “meeting of Indigenous and military knowledge” that had shown a “different path towards a new Colombia.”
Although there are violent drug smuggling groups in the area as well as jaguars, snakes, and other animals, officials believed they were on the correct track because of signs like footprints, a diaper, and half-eaten fruit.
The air force dropped 10,000 flyers with instructions to remain put into the forest, both in Spanish and the children’s own Indigenous language, out of concern that the kids would keep becoming lost and become harder to find.
In addition to providing survival advice, the military also dropped water bottles and food boxes.
Additionally, rescuers had been imploring the kids not to move using a message that had been recorded by the kids’ grandmother.
The youngsters were discovered by rescuers around five kilometers (three miles) west of the accident site, according to the military.
Fatima Valencia, the grandmother of the kids, claimed that Lesly, age 13, protected her younger siblings by having a “warrior” spirit.
The army said Saturday that it would continue looking for Wilson, a rescue dog who vanished during the search, so the search is not totally over.
The army posted a video of the six-year-old Belgian Shepherd Malinois along with the message, “No one is left behind,” on Twitter.
The dog, who at one point may have tagged along with the kids while running away from the Army, was crucial in locating some of the objects that the kids had left behind in the bush. Uncertainty surrounds whether Wilson was the dog that they claimed was pursuing them.
As Petro made his way back from Cuba, where he agreed to a six-month truce with the ELN, Colombia’s last active guerrilla group, word of the children’s rescue broke.
It was a “example of an alliance for the country to follow,” he said on Friday, praising “the effective coordination between the military and the Indigenous people” during the search.