More than a month after a small plane crashed in the Colombian rainforest, four surviving children have been rescued from the jungle with the help of a rescue dog, said President Petro. "Lesly, I'm your grandma, and I want to ask you: stay where you are because they are looking for you, the soldiers are looking for you!" This message was played over and over again for the four missing children over the jungle via helicopter, loudspeaker, and in the indigenous language of the four siblings.
Over 160 rescue teams and helpers from indigenous communities combed through the rugged Amazon region using sniffer dogs and satellite images. After 40 days of desperate searching, hoping, and fearing, the news that nobody dared to believe came: "We want to share the joy of this true miracle with the Colombian people: the rescue of the four minors, all alive, thanks to an tireless and persistent search operation," said Defense Ministry Iván Velsaquez.
A photo was released to confirm the rescue: Soldiers are seen holding three malnourished children and a baby in their arms - the eldest of the four children, Lesly, is 13 years old.
Adult passengers did not survive the crash
The fact that all four survived the crash is a true miracle. On May 1, they, together with their mother, the pilot, and a community leader, were aboard a Cessna 206 propeller plane when it crashed over the dense Amazon rainforest - the three adult passengers did not survive the accident. However, the children set off alone in the rugged jungle.
"An example of survival will go down in history"
"They were alone, but they set an example of survival that will go down in history. So today, these children are the children of peace, Colombia's children," said President Gustavo Petro. He had returned from peace negotiations in Cuba on the same day where he announced a ceasefire with the left-wing guerrilla organization ELN. "The cooperation between the armed forces and the indigenous people, who know the jungle much better than we do, was very effective. And it shows what we can achieve as a country when we forge alliances."
The children belong to the indigenous Witoto people. They grew up in the Amazon region, and their knowledge of the jungle certainly helped them survive. The search team, consisting of around 160 soldiers and indigenous helpers, found a makeshift shelter built of leaves and branches, as well as half-eaten fruits. However, progress in the rugged region was difficult; the jungle is very dense and rains practically non-stop.
Father of the children wanted to bring the family to safety
In addition, criminal gangs, who collaborate with drug cartels, also operate in the area alongside wild animals such as snakes and jaguars. Because violence still prevails in many areas of Colombia, even six years after the peace agreement with the country's largest guerrilla group, FARC.
According to media reports, the children were only on the plane because the father wanted to bring the family to the capital, Bogota, and to safety. He himself had repeatedly received threats from so-called FARC dissidents, a splinter group of the guerrillas who never gave up their weapons. Indigenes, social activists, and environmental activists are especially targeted by the criminal groups.