The Miracle in the Jungle: That’s how the Colombian military described the survival of four children who were lost in a remote area where natives still believe in gnomes and goblins.
One-year-old Cristin; 4-year-old Tien, 9-year-old Soleiny, and 13-year-old Lesly were lost in the world’s largest tropical rainforest for 40 days after walking away from a fatal plane crash, officials reported.
Early Saturday morning, a military helicopter flew the four survivors after their rescue Friday from the remote Amazon jungle to a town’s airport where they boarded a plane to fly to the capital city of Bogotá.
“The children’s father did not rest during this whole time,” Alicia Mendez, of Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper, reported in Spanish adding that the children had arrived malnourished and dehydrated and doctors were treating them at a military hospital.
For over a month, highly-trained teams of Colombian special forces had been searching for the four siblings and officials provided regular updates. Camilo García, of Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper, reported the soldiers found signs of survival that included a baby bottle, hair bows, footprints, and an abandoned suitcase.
“The Military Forces also used three trained dogs for the search,” García reported. “One of them, Ulises, was the first to enter, but he got sick and had to leave the area. There was also Shaina and, finally, Wilson, who is still lost in the jungle.”
The children had boarded a Cessna 206, registered as HK 2803 and operated by Avianline Charter, with their mother, Magdalena Mucutuy, on May 1, according to officials.
Hernando Murcia, the pilot; was flying with Herman Mendoza, the co-pilot, from the remote village of Araracuara north to the town of San José del Guaviare when he reported engine failure and shouted, “MAYDAY!”
The single-engine propeller plane dived into the dense rainforest. A search team found the wreckage and the bodies of Murcia, Mendoza, and Mucutuy before the military “Operation Hope” started.
Volunteers from Indigenous communities in Siona and Araracuara joined the search that made headlines worldwide. Reporter Salud Hernández-Mora, of Colombia’s Semana magazine, reported from the jungle.
“There was a concern about how difficult it was to find your way around the sun, given the cloudy skies and a canopy of trees,” Hernández-Mora wrote in Spanish. “The usual thing, what experts predict, is that those lost in the jungle turn around and become disoriented for days on end.”
There was a miscommunication and Colombian President Gustavo Petro wrongly reported the rescue on May 18. But on Friday, Petro had images to support his report that the kids had survived.
“The jungle saved them,” Petro told reporters in Spanish. “They are children of the jungle, and now they are also children of Colombia.”
The four siblings and their late mother are members of the Witoto tribe, an Indigenous people in southeastern Colombia and northern Peru.
“The training of these children from their Indigenous families on how to eat in the jungle helped them survive,” Lucho Acosta, an Indigenous leader, told Caracol, a Colombian radio station, in Spanish.
Mendoza, the co-pilot who died, was a leader of the Yaruro tribe, a Circum-Caribbean Indigenous people. Colombian authorities praised his advocacy work at both the local and national levels after news of his death.
Petro, who was returning to Bogotá on Friday from Cuba after negotiations with what was left of the leftist guerrilla he had once belonged to, also told reporters that he was looking forward to meeting the children.
Colombia’s Department of Defense reported on Saturday that Iván Velásquez Gómez, Colombia’s defense minister, met the children and Indigenous leaders at the hospital in Bogotá. The Colombian military reported the search for lost K-9 Wilson continued in the jungle.
Related social media (Colombian authorities):
#GeneralGiraldo: "Nuestra premisa como comandos: Jamás se abandona a un compañero caído en el campo de combate. Avanza la #OperaciónEsperanza en la búsqueda de nuestro canino Wilson, que haciendo rastreo y en su afán de encontrar a los niños se aleja de las tropas y se pierde" pic.twitter.com/YwevvJuyIk— Fuerzas Militares de Colombia (@FuerzasMilCol) June 10, 2023
#AEstaHora el ministro @Ivan_Velasquez_ se encuentra en el Hospital Militar para verificar el estado de salud de los 4 niños rescatados gracias a la #OperaciónEsperanza, igualmente acompañará al presidente @petrogustavo que hará un recorrido donde se encuentran los menores pic.twitter.com/NpOGFqM6Iy— Mindefensa (@mindefensa) June 10, 2023
¡Carrera por la vida!— Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (@FuerzaAereaCol) June 10, 2023
Los menores indígenas rescatados son transbordados del helicóptero #Ángel de su @FuerzaAereaCol al avión ambulancia #FAC, junto a expertos en traslados aeromédicos.#AEstaHora despegan desde San José del Guaviare rumbo a Bogotá.#MiFuerzaAérea🇨🇴 pic.twitter.com/27amu1lNrF
#AEstaHora comandos de la @FuerzaAereaCol sacan de la espesa selva a los 4 niños. El helicóptero 🚁 está a más de 60 mts de altura. Los árboles 🌳 son muy altos y la visibilidad es casi nula. Van al helipuerto habilitado en medio de la selva para esta operación.— Mindefensa (@mindefensa) June 10, 2023
Del helipuerto… pic.twitter.com/P7RYWDV9oi
Aeronave C-295 de su @FuerzaAereaCol despega #AEstaHora en configuración ambulancia para traslado de niños indígenas, encontrados a 3.5 km del punto del accidente en Caquetá, a bordo médicos militares de la #FAC entre ellos, 1 neonatólogo, 1 pediatra y 2 médicos aeroespaciales. pic.twitter.com/7u7IG6PxX8— Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (@FuerzaAereaCol) June 10, 2023
La alegría es inmensa, el agradecimiento a nuestras @FuerzasMilCol y comunidades indígenas será eterno. Nunca dejamos de buscarlos hasta que el milagro llegó. #OperaciónEsperanza pic.twitter.com/iVWPCOTpYv— Mindefensa (@mindefensa) June 10, 2023
Photographs of the crash site and search: