After 40 days in the Colombian rainforest, all four children who had been missing since the plane they were traveling in crashed on May 1 have been found alive, according to Colombia’s president.
“They achieved an example of total survival that will go down in history,” President Gustavo Petro said in a news conference on Friday night.
When rescuers reached the site of the plane’s wreckage last month, the bodies of the three adults on board were found, but there was no sign of the four children known to have been on the plane.
In a case that captivated the nation, local Indigenous communities from the remote region, along with the Colombian military, then began scouring the jungle for the children, aged 13, 9, 4 and 1.
The children are “weak” and are receiving medical attention, Mr. Petro said.
The Ministry of Defense said in a news release that the children were initially treated by combat medics from the special operations forces that had been deployed in the search, but that they had been transferred to the military base in the city of San José del Guaviare, where they were in stable condition. They will be transferred to a military hospital in Bogotá tomorrow to recover, according to the statement.
“We want to share the happiness of all the Colombian people with this true miracle that we have known tonight,” the defense minister, Iván Velásquez, said in a video posted to social media.
Details remain unclear as to who found the children, and how they were able to survive so long in the thick jungle, prone to heavy rains and home to jaguars and poisonous snakes.
“It’s a real miracle. It’s going to be news for years to come,” Pedro Arenas, a human-rights activist in San José del Guaviare, told The New York Times. “After 40 days, it is quite incredible news. So there is a lot of joy, there is really happiness.”
The children, members of the Huitoto Indigenous community, had been traveling with their mother and an Indigenous leader from the tiny Amazon community of Araracuara, Colombia, to San José del Guaviare, a small city in central Colombia along the Guaviare River. The pilot reported engine failure and declared an emergency before the plane disappeared from radar around 7:30 a.m. on May 1.
The Colombian air force and other branches of the military soon deployed search-and-rescue planes and helicopters, as well as land and river teams. Indigenous communities in the region joined the effort.
Using a speaker that produces sound loud enough to be heard within a roughly mile-wide radius, they played a recording made by the children’s grandmother in Huitoto, their native language, telling the children to stay in one place and that people were looking for them.
Conflicting details about the case have confused and angered many Colombians. On May 17, Mr. Petro announced on Twitter that the children had been found alive, and then the next day retracted the good news, saying that the nation’s child-welfare agency, the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, had received incorrect information.
Over the past few weeks, the authorities said they had reason to believe that the children were still alive, pointing to footprints, diapers and shoes found in the search.
“They fended for themselves. It is their knowledge from the Indigenous families, their knowledge on how to live in the jungle, that has saved them,” said Mr. Petro at the news conference. “They are children of the jungle. And now they are children of Colombia.”
Federico Rios contributed reporting from Madrid.