BBC) — Four children have been found alive after surviving a plane crash and spending weeks fending for themselves in Colombia’s Amazon jungle.
Colombia’s president said the rescue of the siblings, aged 13, nine, four and one, was “a joy for the whole country”.
The children’s mother and two pilots were killed when their light aircraft crashed in the jungle on 1 May.
The missing children became the focus of a huge rescue operation involving dozens of soldiers and local people.
President Gustavo Petro said finding the group was a “magical day”, adding: “They were alone, they themselves achieved an example of total survival which will remain in history.”
The children belong to the Huitoto indigenous group. Mr Petro shared a photograph of several members of the military and Indigenous community caring for the siblings, who had been missing for 40 days.
One of the rescuers held a bottle up to the mouth of the smallest child, while another fed one of the other children from a mug with a spoon.
A video shared by Colombia’s ministry of defence showed the children being air-lifted into a helicopter in the dark above the tall trees of the jungle. They have been flown to the nation’s capital Bogota, where ambulances have taken them to hospital for further medical treatment.
The children’s grandmother, Fatima Valencia, said after their rescue: “I am very grateful, and to mother earth as well, that they were set free.”
She said the eldest of the four siblings was used to looking after the other three when their mother was at work, and that this helped them survive in the jungle.
“She gave them flour and cassava bread, any fruit in the bush, they know what they must consume,” Ms Valencia said in footage obtained by EVN.
The Cessna 206 aircraft the children and their mother had been travelling on before the crash was flying from Araracuara, in Amazonas province, to San José del Guaviare, when it issued a mayday alert due to engine failure.
The bodies of the three adults were found at the crash site by the army, but it appeared that the children had escaped the wreckage and wandered into the rainforest to find help.
A massive search began and in May, rescuers recovered items left behind by the children, including a child’s drinking bottle, a pair of scissors, a hair tie and a makeshift shelter.
Small footprints were also discovered, which led search teams to believe the children were still alive in the rainforest, which is home to jaguars, snakes and other predators.
Members of the children’s community hoped that their knowledge of fruits and jungle survival skills would give them a better chance of remaining alive.
Indigenous people joined the search and helicopters broadcast a message from the children’s grandmother, recorded in the Huitoto language, urging them to stop moving to make them easier to locate.
After they were found, their grandfather, Fidencio Valencia, called on the authorities to allow the children to be moved closer to their family in Villavicencio, roughly 130km (80 miles) from Bogota.
“I am asking the president as the highest authority, I am sorry to bother him, but it is my right and my duty, it is my blood, it is my family. I want to see the children, here in Villavicencio,” he said in an interview also obtained by EVN.
Earlier Mr Petro said he had spoken to the children’s grandfather.
The president came under criticism last month when a tweet published on his account mistakenly announced that the children had been found.
He erased the tweet the next day saying that the information – which his office had been given by Colombia’s child welfare agency – could not be confirmed.