Officials said four children survived a plane crash in the Colombian jungle. They weren’t found until 40 days later

Colombian President Gustavo Petro called the Mucutuy siblings the ‘children of the jungle’, Andrea Blanco reports

Saturday 10 June 2023 18:18 BST
(Aeronautica Civil de Colombia )
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Four children who survived a plane crash have been found alive after being lost in the Colombian jungle for 40 days, according to the country’s president.

Gustavo Petro announced that the four siblings who disappeared after a plane went down in the Amazon rainforest had survived their ordeal and were receiving medical treatment.

“A joy for the whole country! The [four] children who were lost 40 days ago in the Colombian jungle appeared alive,” Mr Petro tweeted on Friday.

The president said the youngsters, who were found alone, are an “example of survival” and predicted their saga “will remain in history”.

The siblings – 13-year-old Lesly Jacobombaire Mucutuy, nine-year-old Soleiny Jacobombaire Mucutuy, four-year-old Tien Noriel Ronoque Mucutuy, and 11-month-old Cristin Neriman Ranoque Mucutuy – were travelling in a Cessna 206 plane when it crashed on 1 May near the Guaviare province.

Their mother Magdalena Mucutuy, as well as the plane’s pilot, died in the accident but the children were nowhere to be found, according to the Colombian Air Force.

Family fleeing threats from crime groups

Days into the initial search Mr Petro announced that the minors had been located and were in good health. But hours later, he walked back that assertion, clarifying that the Air Force and indigenous communities had established contact with the children, but that their location remained unknown.

Mucutuy was travelling with her children to Bogotá to meet her husband Manuel Ranoque and start a new life together.

(Aeronautica Civil de Colombia )

According to El Tiempo, Mr Ranoque, who is related to a local political leader, previously lived in the indigenous reserve of Puerto Sábalo with his family.

He had to flee the community on foot after receiving threats from crime groups operating in the area. Mr Ranoque completed his odyssey through the jungle and eventually arrived in Bogotá.

He reportedly found a job and saved money for a month and a half to afford his family’s transport from their remote community to the Colombian capital.

The search for the children has captivated Colombia during the 40 days since they vanished after surviving the crash.

Magdalena Mucutuy died in the crash. Her four children survived
Magdalena Mucutuy died in the crash. Her four children survived (OPIAC Amazonia/Twitter)

Plane suffers engine failure

On 1 May, the plane, which was carrying six passengers and the pilot, suffered an engine failure and declared an emergency. After the plane fell off the radar, the search for any survivors started.

The plane had been on a route between Araracuara in the Amazonas province and San Jose del Guaviare for the first leg of the trip when it disappeared.

The plane wasn’t found until two weeks later on 16 May in the rainforest, as weather conditions delayed search operations. The remains of the three adults on the plane were located, but the children weren’t there.

The Colombian armed forces flew 150 soldiers with dogs to the area to search for the siblings. Dozens of volunteers from Indigenous tribes also joined the search efforts.

As they searched in areas with low visibility because of the forest and mist, soldiers in helicopters dropped boxes of food into the jungle for the children to hopefully find.

‘She had been living in the jungle for so long’

Mucutuy’s mother Fátima told El Tiempo she was combing parts of the jungle herself with other members of indigenous communities.

Efforts to find them were stepped up after rescue teams, including search dogs, found discarded fruit the children ate to survive and improvised shelters made with jungle vegetation
Efforts to find them were stepped up after rescue teams, including search dogs, found discarded fruit the children ate to survive and improvised shelters made with jungle vegetation (Aeronáutica Civil de Colombia)

“I’m waiting for them to return [my daughter’s] body. She had been living in the jungle for so long. I’m waiting for her,” Fátima said at the time. “God is good and I know the children will be found alive.”

Authorities said rescue efforts involved three helicopters, including one which blasted out a recorded message from the children’s grandmother in the Huitoto language telling them to stop moving through the jungle. At night, planes fired flares to help ground crews search.

Confusion as rumours emerges about children’s location

At one point, rumours emerged concerning the children’s location and Mr Petro tweeted on 18 May that they had been found but soon deleted the message, saying that he had been misinformed by one of the government agencies.

At the time, Mr Petro claimed in a statement on Twitter that the children had been found after a search by the military, firefighters, and civil aviation authority officials in the dense jungle of Colombia’s Caqueta province.

“After arduous searching by our military, we have found alive the four children who went missing after a plane crash in Guaviare. A joy for the country,” he said.

Hair ties, children’s scissors and a nursing bottle were also found
Hair ties, children’s scissors and a nursing bottle were also found (Aeronáutica Civil de Colombia)

Mr Petro deleted his previous tweet, later issuing an apology: “I have decided to delete the tweet because the information provided by [the government’s child welfare agency, ICBF] could not be confirmed. I apologise for the confusion.

“The Military Forces and the indigenous communities will continue in their tireless search to give the country the news it is waiting for. At this time there is no other priority other than moving forward with the search until you find them. Children’s lives are the most important thing,” he said last month.

The Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF) said previously that it had received information “from the field” that the children had been found in good health. However, defence ministry sources then told local media that they had no confirmation that they had been found.

“Information was received from the area assuring contact was made with the four children who were part of the group transported on the aircraft. This report stated that they had been found alive and in good health,” said a statement from the ICBF before the children were located.

“However, the military forces have not yet been able to establish official contact due to adverse weather conditions and difficult terrain,” the statement added. Authorities were not been able to “corroborate the information received by the ICBF from various sources”.

The Colombian Air Force escalated search efforrs
The Colombian Air Force escalated search efforrs (Fuerza Aerea Colombiana )

ICBF director Astrid Cáceres told Caracol Radio last month that the children were safe but that officials lost communication via satellite with them. However, Ms Cáceres said they had sent teams to three key areas where the children were believed to be, and she was “very confident” that they would soon be found.

The children were travelling with their mother from Araracuara, a village in the Amazon, to San Jose del Guaviare, a small city on the outskirts of the rainforest. The children are a part of the Huitoto people, with officials saying that the oldest siblings have a level of understanding of how to survive in the forest.

‘They are children of the jungle’

The president said on Friday following the finding of the children that for a time he thought that they had been rescued by one of the nomadic tribes that still travel through the jungle with little interaction with the authorities.

During the search, signs that the children were alive appeared, including footprints, a baby bottle, diapers, hair ties, children’s scissors, improvised shelters made with jungle vegetation, and fruit with what appeared to be human bite marks.

“The jungle saved them,” Mr Petro said, according to the AP. “They are children of the jungle, and now they are also children of Colombia.”

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