The children, ages 13, 9, 4 and 1, survived in the jungle for 40 days. Their mother and two others died in the crash.
“They were alone. They themselves achieved an example of total survival. It will remain in history, so those children are today the children of peace and the children of Colombia,” Petro told local media.
The rescue mission — now dubbed Operation Miracle — saw more than 100 military personnel and Indigenous volunteers searching for the kids across a wide area, according to information shared by Defense Minister Iván Velásquez Gómez. The children, who are also Indigenous, are receiving medical care and will be transferred to a hospital in San José del Guaviare, the capital city of the Guaviare department.
Petro had tweeted last month that the children had been found, only to retract the claim. The search continued.
The pilot of the small plane, bound for San José del Guaviar, radioed an emergency call about an engine failure soon after takeoff on May 1, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Colombia. The aircraft then vanished from tracking radar. Responders later found the crash site and three bodies, identified as the pilot, the children’s mother and another relative.
The children were sitting in the back of the plane, which was less damaged by the crash, a report said.
A search soon brought hope that they might be alive. The first discovery, a pair of kids’ tennis shoes, was made near the place of the crash. In the following days, rescuers found a diaper, a half-eaten fruit and a bottle.
On May 17, they came upon an improvised shelter, apparently set up by the children, where they found scissors, hairbands and small footprints.
The country’s child protection agency, the Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF), released a statement just hours later saying that it had been informed that the children were “alive and in good health.” But difficulties contacting the children — which the military attributed to difficult terrain and weather conditions — led to confusion about the well-being and whereabouts of the children.
Petro later apologized for his initial tweet. Fifty more members of the military were dispatched afterward to join the search; over 100 rescue workers were already combing the dense jungle.
The search teams left whistles so the children could make noise, dropped thousands of leaflets and blasted a recording of the siblings’ grandmother asking them to stay still, Spanish media reported.
During the process, Gen. Pedro Sánchez, commander of the Joint Command of Special Operations in Colombia, told the Associated Press that tracking down the children was difficult. “It’s like finding a tiny flea in a huge rug that moves in unpredictable directions,” he said.
They were eventually found about 3.5 kilometers, or 2.1 miles, from the site of the initial incident, according to the Colombian Air Force. Video footage posted by the Ministry of Defense late Friday shows the children being hoisted into a helicopter more than 60 meters, or almost 200 feet, into the air, as it rained.
The Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon said in a statement that their survival is a sign of a “knowledge and relationship with the natural environment of life,” which is “learned from the mother’s womb and practiced from a very early age.”
Herrero reported from Caracas, Venezuela; Klimentov from Washington; and Ables from Seoul.