More than a month after a small plane crashed in the Colombian rainforest, four surviving children have been rescued from the jungle. After a week-long search in the Amazon region, emergency services found the siblings aged 13, 9 and 4 and a year in the south of the country, according to Colombian President Gustavo Petro.
"A joy for the whole country. The four children who have been missing in the Colombian rainforest for 40 days have been found alive," wrote the head of state on Twitter. He also published a photo of soldiers and indigenous people in the jungle who fed and supplied the children with water.
The siblings crashed on May 1 with a Cessna 206 propeller plane in the Caquetá department in the south of the country. Private small planes are often the only way to cover longer distances in the impassable region. The children's mother, the pilot and an indigenous leader died in the accident. While searching for the children, the soldiers found shoes, diapers, hair ties, purple scissors, a baby bottle, a shelter built from leaves and branches, and half-eaten fruit.
Using the objects and traces found, the soldiers were able to reconstruct the path the children had taken so far. Accordingly, they initially removed from the crash site four kilometers to the west. Then they apparently met an obstacle and turned north. The rainforest in the region is very dense, which made the search for the missing people much more difficult. In addition, it rains almost non-stop.
Case reminiscent of 1971 plane crash
The children - three girls and a boy - are themselves part of an indigenous community, and their knowledge of the region may have helped them survive in the jungle after the crash. Her grandmother Fátima Valencia mostly trusted her eldest sister. "She was always like her mother, she took the others to the forest," she said recently on the radio station La FM. "She knows the plants and fruits. We indigenous people learn from an early age which ones are edible and which ones aren't."
The case is reminiscent of the German-Peruvian Juliane Koepcke, who survived a plane crash in the Peruvian rainforest in 1971 and was rescued ten days later. Since her parents were biologists doing research in the Amazon region, the then 17-year-old was familiar with the area and was able to make her way to a river, where she was finally found by forest workers.
According to media reports, the children in Colombia were with their mother on the way to their father, who had fled the region after constant threats from a splinter group of the guerrilla organization FARC. Although the security situation has improved after the 2016 peace agreement between the government and FARC, parts of the South American country are still controlled by illegal groups. Indigenous peoples, social activists and environmentalists in particular are repeatedly targeted by criminal gangs.