Four Indigenous children, including an 11-month-old baby, have been found alive in the dense Colombian Amazon after a plane crash more than two weeks ago, President Gustavo Petro said Wednesday, declaring “joy for the country.”
Petro shared the news on Twitter, saying the children were discovered after “arduous search efforts” by the military.
Authorities had deployed more than 100 soldiers with sniffer dogs to search for the minors who were traveling in an airplane that crashed on May 1, killing three adults.
Rescuers believe the children — who in addition to the 11-month-old included a 13, 9, and 4 year old — have been wandering through the jungle in the southern Caqueta department since the crash.
Earlier Wednesday, the armed forces said that search efforts intensified after rescuers came across a “shelter built in an improvised way with sticks and branches,” leading them to believe there were survivors.
In photographs released by the armed forces, scissors and a hair tie could be seen among branches on the jungle floor.
Previously, a baby’s drinking bottle and a half-eaten piece of fruit had been found.
On Monday and Tuesday, soldiers found the bodies of the pilot and two adults who had been flying from a jungle location to San Jose del Guaviare, one of the main cities in Colombia’s Amazon rainforest.
One of the dead passengers, Ranoque Mucutuy, was the mother of the four children, who are from the Huitoto ethnicity.
– Inaccessible region –
Giant trees that can grow up to 40 meters tall, wild animals and heavy rainfall made the “Operation Hope” search difficult.
Three helicopters have been used to help, one of which blasted out a recorded message from the children’s grandmother in the Huitoto language telling them to stop moving through the jungle.
Authorities have not indicated what caused the plane crash.
The pilot had reported problems with the engine just minutes before the airplane disappeared from radars, Colombia’s disaster response body said.
It is a region with few roads that is also difficult to access by river, so airplane transport is common.
The Huitoto, also spelled Witoto, are known for living in harmony with the remote jungle, and for their hunting, fishing and gathering skills which may have helped the children to survive.
Exploitation, disease and assimilation have reduced the population sharply over many decades.
Petro, who announced the rescue, is Colombia’s first leftist president.
He came to power last August but has been unable to usher in the fundamental reforms in labor law, healthcare, pensions and the judiciary that he promised during his campaign.