Colombia plane crash: Children reportedly survived 16 days in jungle

  • By Adam Durbin & Vanessa Buschschlüter
  • BBC News

Image caption,

Sniffer dogs found a pair of scissors which search teams think suggests the children survived

Colombian President Gustavo Petro says that there is no confirmation that four children who went missing after their plane crashed in the jungle more than two weeks ago have been rescued.

Search teams have found items they think belong to the children in the jungle as well as a makeshift shelter.

This has led them to believe the children have been wandering alone through the rainforest since the crash.

But Mr Petro said information about their rescue could not be verified.

The children – who range in age from between 13 years to 11 months – were on board a small plane along with their mother, a pilot and a co-pilot when it crashed on 1 May.

The adults all died in the crash.

News about the alleged rescue of the children was broken by the president himself on Wednesday afternoon local time, when he tweeted that they had been found “after arduous search efforts”.

But less than 24 hours later, he deleted the tweet and shortly after wrote: “I have decided to delete the tweet because the information provided by the ICBF (Colombia’s child welfare agency) could not be confirmed. I am sorry about what happened. The armed forced and the indigenous communities will carry on with their tireless search in order to give the country the news it is hoping for.”

Colombia’s child welfare agency had earlier said that the president’s now-deleted tweet had been based on information it had provided.

It said in a statement that it had received information “from the field” that the children had been found in good health.

Its director, Astrid Cáceres, told Colombian radio on Thursday morning that the information came from “reliable sources” and that the people who had contacted them had described the children’s appearance, which matched those of the missing children.

However, Ms Cáceres said that her agency had not yet been able to see the children and until such moment, the search effort would not be called off.

The child welfare agency was not alone in saying that it had received information that the four children had been rescued.

A pilot said he had also been told the children had been found by indigenous people deep in the rainforest.

Soldiers taking part in the search, however, said that they themselves had not yet been able to make contact with the children “due to the difficult meteorological conditions and the difficult terrain”.

The Cessna 206 light aircraft the children and their mother had been in was flying from Araracuara, deep in the Amazon jungle in southern Colombia, to San José del Guaviare, when it disappeared in the morning of 1 May.

Its pilot had earlier reported engine problems.

After a huge search effort involving more than 100 soldiers, the plane was finally located on Monday, two weeks after it had disappeared.

The bodies of the pilot, the co-pilot and 33-year-old Magdalena Mucutuy, the mother of the four children, were found at the crash site in Caquetá province.

But the children were nowhere to be found.

Image source, Colombian Armed Forces

Image caption,

The plane was found nose down in deep jungle

The search teams have, however, found clues indicating that the children, who are from the Huitoto indigenous group, survived the crash.

Sniffer dogs came across a child’s drinking bottle, a pair of scissors, a hair tie and some half-eaten fruit.

The search teams also found an improvised shelter made from sticks and branches.

“We think that the children who were aboard the plane are alive. We have found traces at a different location, away from the crash site, and a place where they may have sheltered,” Colonel Juan José López said on Wednesday.

Fearing that the children were wandering ever deeper into the jungle, the military deployed helicopters which played a recorded message from their grandmother in the Huitoto language urging them to stay put.

Reports of sightings of the children spread on Wednesday.

Avianline, a local plane operator which owned the crashed plane, released a statement saying that it had received reports that the children had been found.

One of its pilots who landed in Cachiporro, a community near the crash site, was told that locals there had been contacted by radio from a remote location called Dumar and been told that the children had been found. They would be taken by boat to Cachiporro, he said.

The company added that it had no way of confirming if the information was correct, but it did point out that the arrival of the children by boat may have been delayed by heavy rains, which have made the river too dangerous to navigate.

Indigenous radio stations also reported on Wednesday that the children had been found by a local, and were being transported by river to Cachiporro.

The children’s father has said that he is not giving up hope. He told Caracol Radio that his sister had once been lost in the forest for a month and managed to return.

It is thought that the Huitoto people’s knowledge of fruits and jungle survival skills will have given the young children a better chance of surviving the ordeal.

2023-05-18 17:09:09