Four indigenous children lost in the Amazon jungle after a plane crash nearly a month ago are believed to be alive, army officials said, as the search continues through treacherous terrain.
The children, ages 13, 9, 4 and 11 months old, were wandering in the jungle after a plane crash in southeastern Colombia on May 1.
The crash claimed the lives of the three adults on board: the children’s mother Magdalena Mucutui Valencia, the pilot and an indigenous leader.
There was no sign of the children when the wreckage was recovered by the Colombian army.
More than 100 men are involved in the search for the four youths. Mission leaders say it is “very likely” that the minors are still alive because of the clues they found.
The latest clue to the children’s possible whereabouts is a footprint found on the muddy ground in the jungle, which army officials say is that of 13-year-old Lesly.
Soldiers search for the missing children in the Colombian Amazon rainforest, in the southwestern municipality of Solano
The latest clue as to the children’s possible whereabouts is a footprint found on the muddy ground in the jungle, which army officials say belongs to 13-year-old Lesly, the eldest of the missing children.
Satellite images have since revealed a path the children took from the plane wreckage, and rescuers have come across some of their belongings, a makeshift shelter and a half-eaten fruit.
Last week they found a pair of shoes and a diaper.
“Based on the evidence, we have concluded that the children are still alive,” rescue team leader General Pedro Sanchez told W Radio on Monday.
“If they were dead it would be easy to find them because they would be quiet and the sniffer dogs would find them,” he added.
On the morning of May 1, a Cessna 206 aircraft left a jungle region known as Araracuara en route to the city of San Jose del Guaviare in the Colombian Amazon.
Minutes into the 350-kilometre (217 mi) journey, the pilot reported engine problems and the plane disappeared from radars.
Between May 15 and 16, soldiers found the bodies of the three adults and the debris of the aircraft stuck vertically in the dense vegetation, the nose destroyed.
Another photo released by the Colombian military shows a footprint found yesterday in the forest in a rural area of the municipality of Solano, Caqueta, in southwestern Colombia
The Colombian army is following the possible trail of the four missing children
The crash was said to have happened due to a mechanical failure on May 1. The front of the aircraft was completely destroyed
Among the missing children is four-year-old Tien Noriel Ronoque Mucutuy, pictured here with his mother Magdalena Mucutuy Valencia, who died in the plane crash
Nine-year-old Soleiny Mucutuy, pictured, goes missing in the jungle along with his three brothers
But the kids – Lesly, 13, Soleiny, nine, Ten Noriel, four, and baby Cristin – were missing.
Some 200 soldiers and indigenous people with knowledge of the terrain have combed a dense jungle area some 320 square kilometers (124 square miles) – about twice the size of Washington, DC.
The Air Force had dumped 10,000 pamphlets in the forest with instructions in Spanish and the children’s own native Huitoto language telling them to stay.
The leaflets also contain survival tips and the army has dropped food packages and bottled water for the children.
On Sunday, the army placed powerful searchlights with a range of up to three kilometers in the area “so that the minors can approach us,” search team member Colonel Fausto Avellaneda told the Noticias Caracol TV show.
Rescue workers also broadcast a message recorded by the children’s grandmother, urging them to remain in place so that the soldiers can find them.
The general said the search team believed it had gotten within 100 meters (328 feet) of the children, but storms, dense vegetation and swampy terrain prevented them from reaching the children.
Helicopters and satellite imagery from the Air Force are being used to search an area that is home to jaguars, cougars, snakes and other predators, as well as armed groups that smuggle drugs and terrorize the local population.
With all hands on deck, members of the indigenous community hold traditional ceremonies to “speak to the jungle” and ask for the children to be handed over, the government said.
Photos released by the military showed scissors, shoes and hair bows among branches on the jungle floor.
A baby’s drinking bottle and half-eaten pieces of fruit were spotted before the shelter was discovered.
More than 100 soldiers with sniffer dogs follow the trail of the four missing children in the Colombian Amazon
Colombian President Gustavo Petro declared the rescue a “joy to the country” – only for his army and search and rescue teams to clarify that they had not found the children
A baby bottle and scissors were among the items the rescuers found that gave them hope for survivors as they searched the jungle for the missing children.
The plane crash happened in Solano, Caqueta. The front of the aircraft was found destroyed
More than 100 soldiers with sniffer dogs walked through the jungle in southern Colombia in search of the missing children
Sniffer dogs and three helicopters were deployed to search for the children, but wildlife, torrential rain and tree heights delayed the rescue operation
A half-eaten piece of fruit was another item found by rescuers, giving them hope for survivors
A tag from a headband found in the woods also suggested the children might still be alive
On Monday and Tuesday, soldiers found the bodies of the pilot and two adults who had flown from a jungle location to San Jose del Guaviare, one of the most important cities in eastern Colombia, where grasslands give way to the Amazon rainforest.
Giant trees that can grow up to 40 meters high and heavy rainfall have made the search difficult.
Three helicopters were deployed, one of which broadcast a recorded message from the children’s grandmother in their native language Huitoto telling them to stop moving through the jungle.
Authorities have not said what caused the plane crash.
The pilot had reported engine problems minutes before the plane disappeared from radars, the Colombian disaster response organization said.
It is a region with few roads and is also difficult to access by river, so air travel is common.
The children come from the indigenous Huitoto community, also spelled Witoto, who are known for living in harmony with the jungle.
The community develops skills in hunting, fishing and gathering, which may have helped the children survive.
Exploitation, disease and assimilation greatly reduced the Huitoto population over many decades.