How 4 siblings survived 40 days in the Amazon after deadly plane crash

Click to play video: '‘A miracle of God’: Children found alive in Amazon jungle 40 days after plane crash'
‘A miracle of God’: Children found alive in Amazon jungle 40 days after plane crash
‘A miracle of God’: Children found alive in Amazon jungle 40 days after plane crash – Jun 12, 2023

The world is slowly learning incredible new details about four young siblings — including one infant — who survived for more than a month alone in the dense Amazon jungle.

The children, ages 13, 9, 4, and 1, were rescued by Colombian authorities on Friday after 40 days lost in the wilderness. They were the sole survivors of a small plane crash that killed three adults on May 1, including the children’s mother, Magdalena Mucutuy Valencia.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro said the children, who belong to the Huitoto Indigenous group, survived like “children of the jungle.”

While speaking to reporters on Friday, Petro said the siblings were alive because of their knowledge of the Amazon taught to them by their Indigenous community.

Petro originally shared news of the children’s rescue on Twitter, where he called the effort “a joy for the whole country” in Spanish. The president shared a photo of Colombian military personnel and Indigenous rescuers unpacking gear in the area where the children were found.

Story continues below advertisement

Colombia’s Armed Force Press Office also shared an image of the rescuers with the children when they were discovered on Friday. In the photo, the three older children are seated on the ground and wrapped in thermal blankets while a soldier held the infant in his arms. All of the children appear weak and gaunt.

Four siblings were found alive in Colombia on June 9, 2023, after they survived for 40 days in the Amazon following a plane crash in May 2023. In this photo provided by Colombia’s Armed Forces Press Office, the children pose with the soldiers and Indigenous rescuers who found them. Colombia's Armed Force Press Office via AP

The children are currently receiving medical treatment at a military hospital in Colombia.

Story continues below advertisement

On Sunday, Manuel Ranoque, the father of the youngest two children, told reporters their mother is said to have survived for four days after the plane crash. The oldest child, 13-year-old Lesly Jacobombaire Mucutuy, told Ranoque the mother encouraged her children to leave her at the crash site.

Manuel Ranoque, the father of two of the youngest children who survived an Amazon plane crash, speaks to reporters from the entrance of the military hospital where the children are receiving medical attention in Bogota, Colombia, on Sunday. AP Photo/Ivan Valencia

He said Valencia likely would have told the children to “go away” and leave the wreckage site in order to survive. Ranoque did not provide any additional details about Valencia.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

President Petro visited the children and their family in hospital on Saturday. He wrote in Spanish that military and Indigenous groups collaborated to return the children to safety.

Story continues below advertisement

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

What we know about the rescue mission

For five weeks, rescuers pushed through thick forest and dangerous terrain in search of the four missing children: Lesly Jacobombaire Mucutuy, 13, Soleiny Jacobombaire Mucutuy, 9, Tien Ranoque Mucutuy, 4, and one-year-old Cristin Ranoque Mucutuy.

The military-led rescue mission saw collaboration from over 100 special forces soldiers, K-9 units and over 70 Indigenous troops familiar with the jungle’s harsh environment.

Two weeks after the initial search launched, a team found the crash site in a thick patch of the rainforest on May 16. The bodies of the three adults — the children’s mother, the pilot, Hernando Murcia Morales, and a Yarupari Indigenous leader, Herman Mendoza Hernández — were found amid the wreckage. The children were nowhere in sight.

The group had been travelling from the Amazonian village of Araracuara to the town of San Jose del Guaviare when the plane crashed in the jungle of Solano in the Caqueta state of Colombia. Before making impact, the pilot reported that the Cessna single-engine propeller plane experienced an emergency due to engine failure. The small aircraft fell off the radar a short time later.

A soldier stands in front of a small, crashed airplane.
A soldier stands in front of the wreckage of a Cessna C206 on May 18. The plane crashed in the jungle of Solano in the Caqueta state of Colombia. Colombia's Armed Forces Press Office via AP

As the search for the siblings continued, rescuers found little clues that reassured them the children might still be alive, including footprints, a bottle and a dirty diaper.

Story continues below advertisement

Soldiers in helicopters dropped boxes of food into the jungle over the past few weeks, 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.

Finally, on Friday, search and rescue crews found the four children in an area clear of trees about five kilometres from the crash site. They were reportedly alerted to their presence when they heard the one-year-old crying.

After they were assisted by rescuers on the ground, the children had to be lifted into a helicopter using lines to pull them onboard, as the forested area was too dense to land.

A military helicopter takes off with a group of Indigenous at a military base in Calamar, Colombia, on May 23 to help search for four Indigenous children who were missing after a deadly plane crash. AP Photo/Fernando Vergara

The four children told authorities and their family that they survived the difficult 40 days by eating cassava flour and seeds that they knew were safe for consumption. For supplies, they had only two small bags containing some clothes, a towel, a flashlight, two cellphones, a music box and a soda bottle. They used the bottle to collect water to drink.

Story continues below advertisement

President Petro said at one point the children had to defend themselves from a wild dog.

At night, the children allegedly hid inside tree trunks, an uncle told the media outlet Noticias Caracol.

Rumours also emerged about the children’s whereabouts on May 18, when President Petro incorrectly tweeted that the children had been found. He then deleted the message, claiming he had been misinformed by a government agency.

Though the children were reportedly exhausted and starving, they are now expected to recover at the Bogota military hospital.

Some Indigenous community members burned incense as part of a ceremony outside the hospital Sunday to give thanks for the rescue of the kids.

Luis Acosta, coordinator of the Indigenous guard that was part of the search in the Amazon, said the children were found as part of what he called a “combination of ancestral wisdom and Western wisdom … between a military technique and a traditional technique.”

The Colombian government, which is trying to end internal conflicts in the country, has highlighted the joint work of the military and Indigenous communities to find the children.

— With files from The Associated Press

Sponsored content