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Oldest of 4 siblings who survived Colombian plane crash told family their mother lived for days

Jun 12, 2023, 12:23 PM

FILE - In this photo released by Colombia's Armed Forces Press Office, a soldier stands in front of...

FILE - In this photo released by Colombia's Armed Forces Press Office, a soldier stands in front of the wreckage of a Cessna C206, May 18, 2023, that crashed in the jungle of Solano in the Caqueta state of Colombia. The discovery of footprints on May 30 of a small foot rekindled the hope of finding the children alive after their plane crashed on May 1. Soldiers found the wreckage and the bodies of three adults, including the pilot and the children's mother. (Colombia's Armed Forces Press Office via AP, File)

(Colombia's Armed Forces Press Office via AP, File)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The four Indigenous children who survived 40 days in the Amazon jungle after their plane crashed have shared limited but harrowing details of their ordeal with their family, including that their mother survived the crash for days before she died.

The siblings, aged 13, 9, 4 and 1, are expected to remain for at least two weeks in a hospital receiving treatment after their rescue Friday, but some are already speaking and wanting to do more more than lie in bed, relatives said.

Manuel Ranoque, father of the two youngest children, told reporters outside the hospital Sunday that the oldest of the four siblings — 13-year-old Lesly Jacobombaire Mucutuy — had described to him how their mother was alive for about four days after the plane crashed on May 1 in the Colombian jungle.

Ranoque said before she died, the mother likely would have told them: “Go away,” apparently asking them to leave the wreckage site to survive. He provided no more details. Authorities have not said anything about this version.

Details of what happened to the youngsters, and what they did, have been emerging gradually and in small pieces, so it could take some time to have a better picture of their ordeal, during which the youngest, Cristin, turned 1 year old.

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.

He said they used the bottle to collect water in the jungle, and he added that after they were rescued the youngsters complained of being hungry. “They wanted to eat rice pudding, they wanted to eat bread,” he said.

Fidencio Valencia, a child’s uncle, told the media outlet Noticias Caracol that the children were starting to talk and one of them said they hid in tree trunks to protect themselves in a jungle area filled with snakes, animals and mosquitoes. He said they were exhausted.

“They at least are already eating, a little, but they are eating,” he said after visiting them at the military hospital in Bogota, Colombia. On Saturday, Defense Minister Iván Velásquez had said the children were being rehydrated and couldn’t eat food yet.

Later, Valencia provided new details of the children’s recovery two days after the rescue: “They have been drawing. Sometimes they need to let off steam.” He said family members are not talking a lot with them to give them space and time to recover from the shock.

The children were traveling with their mother from the Amazonian village of Araracuara to the town of San Jose del Guaviare when the plane went down.

The Cessna single-engine propeller plane was carrying three adults and the four children when the pilot declared an emergency due to engine failure. The small aircraft fell off the radar a short time later and a search for survivors began.

Dairo Juvenal Mucutuy, another uncle, told local media that one of kids said he wanted to start walking.

“Uncle, I want shoes, I want to walk, but my feet hurt,” Mucutuy said the child told him.

“The only thing that I told the kid (was), ‘When you recover, we will play soccer,” he said.

Authorities and family members have said the siblings survived eating cassava flour and seeds, and that some familiarity with the rainforest’s fruits were also key to their survival. The kids are members of the Huitoto Indigenous group.

After being rescued on Friday, the children were transported in a helicopter to Bogota and then to the military hospital, where President Gustavo Petro, government and military officials, as well as family members met with the children on Saturday.

An air force video released 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 on Friday tweeted 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.

Gen. Pedro Sanchez, who was in charge of the rescue efforts, said that the children were found 5 kilometers (3 miles) away from the crash site in a small forest clearing. He said rescue teams had passed within 20 to 50 meters (66 to 164 feet) of where the children were found on a couple of occasions but had missed them.

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.

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.

Colombia’s army sent 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.

Ranoque, the father of the youngest children, said the rescue shows how as an “Indigenous population, we are trained to search” in the middle of the jungle.

“We proved the world that we found the plane… we found the children,” he added.

Some Indigenous community members burned incense as part of a ceremony outside the Bogota military 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.

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Oldest of 4 siblings who survived Colombian plane crash told family their mother lived for days