Colombia: Mum told children to leave Amazon plane crash site so they could survive

The father of Colombian children who survived 40 days alone in the jungle says their survival is a 'miracle', ITV News reports

The father of the youngest of the four children who survived 40 days alone in the Amazon after a plane crash says their mother initially survived, and told them to leave to stay alive.

Three children and a baby were able to stay alive in the dense rainforest for weeks before being found by Colombian soldiers in the Solano jungle, Caqueta state, on Friday.

The children were traveling from the Amazonian village of Araracuara to San Jose del Guaviare when their plane went down, ultimately killing all three adults aboard.

Manuel Ranoque, father of the two youngest children, told reporters outside the hospital where the children were recovering on Sunday that the eldest - 13-year-old Lesly Jacobombaire Mucutuy - told him the pair's mother was still alive for about four days after the crash.

Mr Ranoque said before she died, the mother likely would have told them to “go away,” apparently asking them to leave the wreckage site to survive.

The children told their family they hid in tree trunks to stay alive in a jungle area filled with snakes, animals and mosquitoes, one report said.

The plane carrying the children crashed at the start of May. Credit: AP

Fidencio Valencia, one of the children’s uncle, told media outlet Noticias Caracol the children were starting to talk following their ordeal, and one had told him they hid in trunks to protect themselves.

The indigenous children's familiarity with the rainforest's fruits helped them survive while a massive search was mounted for them, authorities and family members said.

Timing was also in the children's favour. Astrid Cáceres, head of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, said the youngsters were also able to eat fruit because “the jungle was in harvest.”

Manuel Ranoque, the father of two of the youngest Indigenous children, speaks outside the hospital in Bogota where they are being treated. Credit: AP

Officials praised the courage of eldest of the children, a girl, who they said had some knowledge of how to survive in the rainforest and led the children through their ordeal.

The children, members of the Huitoto people, aged 13, nine, four, and 11 months, ate fruit, seeds, and cassava flour to survive.

Colombia's president, Gustavo Petro, dubbed them 'children of the jungle' as he hailed the four youngsters' extraordinary survival.

They are expected to remain in hospital for at least two weeks of treatment following their rescue.

Military personnel and Indigenous leaders stand by as the rescued children arrive in Bogota. Credit: AP

How 'the children of the jungle' survived 40 days in the Amazon

The four children were travelling from the Amazonian village of Araracuara to San Jose del Guaviare when the plane crashed in the early hours of May 1.

The Cessna single-engine propeller was carrying three adults and the four children when the pilot declared an emergency due to an engine failure.

Cassava flour is pictured being used to make flatbread in Cuba. Credit: AP

The small aircraft fell off the radar a short time later and a search for survivors began.

Two weeks after the crash, on May 16, a search team found the plane in a thick patch of the rainforest and recovered the bodies of the three adults on board, but the small children were nowhere to be found.

Two of three seats occupied by the children remained in place and upright despite the crash, according to a report, while one child’s seat came loose from the plane structure.

Sensing that the children could still be alive, Colombia’s army stepped up the hunt and flew 150 soldiers with dogs into the area, where mist and thick foliage greatly limited visibility.

Dozens of volunteers from indigenous tribes also joined the search.

As the search progressed, soldiers found small clues that led them to believe the children were still alive, including a pair of footprints, a baby bottle, nappies and pieces of fruit that looked like they had been bitten by humans.

Soldiers on helicopters dropped boxes of food into the jungle, hoping that it would help sustain the children.

Planes flying over the area fired flares to help search crews on the ground at night, and rescuers used speakers that blasted a message recorded by the siblings’ grandmother telling them to stay in one place.

Watch ITV News reporter Sally Biddulph's report of the children's extraordinary rescue

General Pedro Sanchez, who was in charge of the rescue efforts, said the children were found 5km (3 miles) away from the crash site in a small forest clearing on June 9.

He said rescue teams had passed within 20 to 50 metres (66 to 164-ft) of where the children were found on a couple of occasions, but had missed them.

“The minors were already very weak,” Gen Sanchez said. “And surely their strength was only enough to breathe or reach a small fruit to feed themselves or drink a drop of water in the jungle.”

An air force video released on Friday showed a helicopter using lines to pull the youngsters up because it couldn’t land in the dense rainforest where they were found.

The military released pictures showing a group of soldiers and volunteers posing with the children, who were wrapped in thermal blankets. One of the soldiers held a bottle to the smallest child’s lips.

Henry Guerrero, an Indigenous man who was part of the search group, told reporters that the children were found with two small bags containing some clothes, a towel, a flashlight, two cellphones, a music box and a soda bottle.

Following the rescue, they began to recount their survival ordeal.

The children's uncle said they had told him they were able to salvage some food from the plane's wreckage to aid their survival.

“When the plane crashed, they took out (of the wreckage) a fariña, and with that, they survived,” Mr Valencia told reporters.

Fariña is a cassava flour eaten by people in the Amazon region.

“After the fariña ran out, they began to eat seeds,” Mr Valencia continued.

The children also told officials they spent some time with a dog in the jungle while they were alone, but said it went missing.

The dog was a rescue named Wilson, which soldiers had taken into the rainforest to help with the search. The military was still looking for the dog, a Belgian Shepherd, as of Saturday.

Military personnel unload one of the four children after their rescue from the rainforest. Credit: AP

President Petro called the children an “example of survival” and predicted their saga “will remain in history.”

Damaris Mucutuy, an aunt of the children, told a radio station “the children are fine” despite being dehydrated and with insect bites, adding that they had been offered mental health services.

Mr Petro said that for a while he had believed the children were rescued by one of the nomadic tribes that still roam the remote area where the plane fell and have little contact with authorities.

“The jungle saved them,” he said. “They are children of the jungle, and now they are also children of Colombia.”

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