Three children and a baby were reported to have been found alive more than two weeks after a plane crashed with them on board in the Colombian Amazon jungle.
Colombian authorities had deployed more than 100 soldiers with sniffer dogs to search for the children who were travelling in a plane that crashed in the Amazon 17 days ago, killing three adults.
Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro said in a tweet on Wednesday that the children were discovered after “arduous search efforts” by the military. “A joy for the country,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Colombian armed forces said that search efforts intensified after rescuers came across a “shelter built in an improvised way with sticks and branches”, leading them to believe there were survivors. However, there were no reports from the Colombian military confirming the discovery of the children.
Después de arduas labores de búsqueda de nuestras Fuerzas Militares, hemos encontrado con vida a los 4 niños que habían desaparecido por el accidente aéreo en Guaviare. Una alegría para el país.
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) May 17, 2023
(Translation: After arduous search efforts by our Military Forces, we have found alive the 4 children who had disappeared due to the plane crash in Guaviare. A joy for the country.)
Colombia’s El Espectador news outlet reported later that the military had not confirmed finding the children, though information was reportedly received by a government agency that contact had been made.
Avianline Charters, owner of the crashed aircraft, said that one of its pilots in the search area was told the children had been found and that they “were being transported by boat down river and that they were all alive”.
However, the company also said that “there has been no official confirmation” that the children were completely out of danger, and thunderstorms in the area still posed a risk to them reaching safety.
In photographs released by the armed forces, scissors and a hair tie could be seen among branches on the jungle floor. Previously, a baby’s drinking bottle and a half-eaten piece of fruit had been found.
Rescuers believe the four children – aged 13, nine, four and an 11-month-old baby – wandered through the jungle in the southern Caqueta Department since the crash on May 1.
On Monday and Tuesday, soldiers found the bodies of the pilot and two adults who had been flying from a jungle location to San Jose del Guaviare, one of the main cities in Colombia’s Amazon rainforest. The region has few roads and is also difficult to access by river, so transport by small aeroplane is common.
One of the dead passengers, Ranoque Mucutuy, was the mother of the four children, who are of the Huitoto ethnicity.
Three helicopters have been used to help in the search operation, one of which blasted out a recorded message from the children’s grandmother in the Huitoto language telling them to stop moving through the jungle.
Giant trees that can grow up to 40 metres (131 feet) tall, wild animals and heavy rainfall made the “Operation Hope” search difficult.
Authorities have not indicated what caused the plane crash.
The pilot had reported problems with the engine just minutes before the aeroplane disappeared from radars, the Colombian disaster response body said.