This is the emotional moment four Colombian children who were missing for six weeks alone in the Amazon after a plane crash were airlifted out of the jungle.
The siblings, Lesly, 13, Soleiny, nine, Tien Noriel, four, and baby Cristin who had his first birthday while lost in the rainforest, had been travelling in a light aircraft on May 1 when it crashed. The accident killed everyone else on board, the children’s mother Magdalena Mucutui Valencia, the pilot and an indigenous leader.
But when the wreckage of the plane was found after weeks of hunting not only were the children not found dead alongside the adults, there was part-eaten fruit that suggested they had all survived.
That sparked a huge hunt across miles of dense and remote Amazon rainforest and the President, Gustavo Petro, mistakenly caused false hope when he said they were safe only to retract his statement and say there was just evidence they might still be alive.
After they were miraculously found, dramatic footage shows how the four children were winched into a rescue helicopter, bitten, dehydrated and malnourished but mercifully alive, and taken to safety.
Helicopter crew carefully winched the young children, who were dehydrated, bitten and malnourished but otherwise unharmed, on board
The four children had been in a plane crash, which killed all the adults on board, on May 1 and had survived alone in the Amazon since
The children were airlifted to safety by an army helicopter after finally being located in the jungle
Four indigenous children (pictured) who went missing for six weeks in the Colombian Amazon jungle after a plane crash have been found alive
The plane crash happened in Solano, Caqueta. The aircraft was found destroyed on May 16
But the rescue efforts intensified and yesterday he delivered the news the country, and the watching world, had hoped for.
‘It is a joy for the whole country,’ Petro Tweeted.
‘They were alone, they themselves achieved an example of total survival which will remain in history.’
The siblings, members of the Huitoto Indigenous group, are dehydrated, malnourished and bitten by insects but are otherwise healthy, rescuers said.
Their grandmother, whose voice was played from aircraft above the jungle during the search to reassure the youngsters they were being looked for, told reporters: ‘I never lost hope, I was always supporting the search. I feel very happy, I thank President Petro and my ‘countrymen’ who went through so many difficulties.’
Overnight an army helicopter hovered above the tree canopy, hoisted the four on board and flew them to hospital for checks. The delighted soldiers had earlier posed for photographs with the children, who appeared emaciated.
The children’s grandfather told Noticias Caracol he was very grateful to the army for helping to find them, adding ‘I want to see them’.
The survival story is all the more miraculous as the jungle is home to jaguars, pumas, snakes and other predators, as well as armed groups that smuggle drugs and terrorize local populations.
The children had been missing for more than a month, sparking a massive search operation to find them
The siblings, aged one, four, nine and 13, had been travelling in a light aircraft on May 1 when it crashed
The crash is believed to have happened due a mechanical failure on May 1. The wreckage was found wedged in thick vegetation, having apparently nosedived into the jungle
Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez paid tribute to the various army units’ ‘unshakeable and tireless’ work, as well as to the Indigenous people who took part in the search.
Army rescuers ‘immediately took charge of and stabilised’ the four siblings, who were to be transferred to San Jose del Guaviare, according to the minister.
‘Tomorrow, depending on their medical assessment and condition, we hope they will be transferred to Bogota, to the military hospital,’ Velasquez said.
The drama began to unfold on May 1 when the group caught a routine flight on a Cessna 206 from Araracuara to the town of San Jose del Guaviare. In a country with such dense jungle, light aircraft and boats are often the only viable means of transport.
The missing children included four-year-old Tien Noriel Ronoque Mucutuy, pictured here with his mother Magdalena Mucutuy Valencia, who died in the plane crash
Nine-year-old Soleiny Mucutuy, pictured, was missing in the jungle with his three brothers
Minutes after starting the 350km (220 mile) journey, the pilot reported problems with the engine and the plane disappeared from radars.
Between May 15 and 16, soldiers found the bodies of the three adults and the debris of the plane, which was wedged vertically in the thick vegetation, its nose destroyed.
But the children – Lesly, 13, Soleiny, nine, Tien Noriel, four, and baby Cristin – remained missing.
Some 200 soldiers and indigenous people with knowledge of the terrain have been combing a dense jungle area of some 320 sq km (124 sq mi) – about double the size of Washington DC.
The air force had dumped 10,000 flyers into the forest with instructions in Spanish and the children’s indigenous Huitoto language, telling them to stay put.
The leaflets also included survival tips, and the military has dropped food parcels and bottled water for the children.
Powerful searchlights were shone into the area ‘so that the minors can approach us’, search team member Colonel Fausto Avellaneda told the Noticias Caracol TV show.
Huitoto children learn hunting, fishing and gathering, and the kids’ grandfather, Fidencio Valencia, had said the children are well acquainted with the jungle.
At one point the search team believed it had come to within 100m (300ft) of them, but storms, thick vegetation and marshy terrain prevented them from reaching them.
Members of the indigenous community held traditional ceremonies ‘speaking to the jungle’ and asking it to give up the children.
But the jungle began giving up tantalising clues that hopes were not lost for the youngsters. In photographs released by the military, scissors, shoes, and hair ties could be seen among branches on the jungle floor.
There were no signs of the youngsters when the aircraft’s wreckage was recovered by the Colombian military – causing a huge search operation in the southeast of the country to find them
A picture released by the Colombian army showed a footprint found in the forest in a rural area of the municipality of Solano, Caqueta, in southeastern Colombia
A baby bottle and a pair of scissors were among items the rescuers found which gave them hope of survivors as they searched the jungle for the missing children
More than 100 soldiers with sniffer dogs walked through the jungle in the south of Colombia searching for the missing children
Sniffer dogs and three helicopters were deployed in search of the children, but wild animals, heavy rain and tree height have prolonged the rescue operation
A baby’s drinking bottle and half-eaten pieces of fruit had been spotted before the shelter’s discovery.
Then nearly two weeks ago, a footprint was found on the muddy jungle floor. Army officials believed it to belong to 13-year-old Lesly.
Leaders from the Huitoto indigenous group expressed hope that the children’s knowledge of fruits and jungle survival skills should give them better odds of being found alive.
Boxes of food were dropped to the jungle floor to help sustain the children. And yesterday the efforts paid off when one of the rescue dogs who had been on their scent led soldiers to the group, the President confirmed. They had been following footprints left on the muddy floor.
‘The jungle saved them,’ Petro said. ‘They are children of the jungle, and now they are also children of Colombia.’