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Mother told kids to leave Colombia plane crash site for help, family says

The four children found alive after surviving for 40 days in a Colombian jungle were told by their mother to leave the site of a plane crash and seek help, their father said. According to the oldest child, their mother lived for about four days after surviving the impact of the crash that left the group stranded in the wilderness, their father, Manuel Ranoque, told reporters Sunday.

Rescuers found the siblings, ages 13, 9, 4 and 1, on Friday, after combing the remote area of Amazon wilderness for five weeks, tracking scattered signs of their survival that included a makeshift shelter and half-eaten fruit. The children are recovering in a hospital.

Last month, searchers found the wreckage and the bodies of three adults, including the children’s mother, but the siblings — who are members of the Huitoto Indigenous group — had left the crash site. Details are slowly emerging about how they managed to survive for 40 days.

4 children were rescued after 40 days in the jungle. How did they survive?

Lesly Jacobombaire Mucutuy, 13, told the father of her youngest two siblings that their mother survived for four days after the May 1 plane crash, Ranoque told reporters outside the hospital where the children were being treated Sunday.

“Before she died, their mom told them something like, ‘You guys get out of here,’” Ranoque said. The father added that it was difficult to get details from the children, who have not been eating well and are tired from their ordeal.

They are recovering at a military hospital in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, officials said, and were visited by President Gustavo Petro over the weekend.

“Lesly, Tien, Soleiny and Cristín are doing well, in an extraordinary recovery process that shows the strength and the power that they have,” said Adriana Velásquez Lasprilla, deputy director of the Institute of Family Welfare, Colombia’s child protection agency.

Colombian soldiers found four children alive in the country’s south on June 9, more than five weeks after they survived a deadly plane crash. (Video: Reuters)

Soon after the small Cessna plane took off on May 1, the pilot reported an engine failure in a radio call, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Colombia. The aircraft vanished from the radar. When the crash site was reached more than two weeks later, the aircraft could be seen wedged into the jungle floor — its nose and cockpit crushed. The three adults were discovered dead, but the siblings were missing from the site. A subsequent report said the children had been sitting at the back of the plane, which was less damaged.

Fidencio Valencia, an uncle, told reporters over the weekend that the siblings initially sustained themselves on cassava flour known as fariña, which was being transported aboard the aircraft, according to the Associated Press. The flour is a common source of carbohydrates in the Amazon region. “When the plane crashed, they took out a fariña, and with that, they survived,” Valencia said. “After the fariña ran out, they began to eat seeds.”

In an interview with El Tiempo newspaper, rescuer Henry Guerrero said the children also found one of 100 emergency supply kits scattered by the military — as well as wild fruits and plants in the jungle.

On Sunday, Colombia’s military released images of two colorful drawings produced by the two eldest children from their hospital. “This drawing represents the hope of an entire country,” military officials tweeted.

Over the weekend, government officials thanked Indigenous communities for their participation in “Operation Miracle,” as the search mission was dubbed. The assistance of the Siona and Araracuara communities was “decisive” in the children’s discovery, Defense Minister Iván Velásquez Gómez said on Twitter.

Victoria Bisset and Ana Vanessa Herrero contributed to this report.


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