Details continued to emerge Sunday of the 40-day ordeal that four siblings in Colombia experienced after a plane carrying them crashed in the dense Amazon jungle, as their father and rescuers spoke to media about what the children recounted.
After wandering alone for over a month, the Huitoto Indigenous children — ages 13, nine, five, and one — were rescued and airlifted out of the Amazon on Friday, and were recovering two days later in a military hospital in the capital Bogota.
Their father, speaking to the press on Sunday outside the hospital, said that his wife had been severely injured in the May 1 crash, but that she did not die until four days later, her children beside her.
“The one thing that (13-year-old Lesly) has cleared up for me is that, in fact, her mother was alive for four days,” Manuel Miller Ranoque told reporters.
“Before she died, their mom told them something like, ‘You guys get out of here. You guys are going to see the kind of man your dad is, and he’s going to show you the same kind of great love that I have shown you.’”
Magdalena Mucutuy, the children’s mother, was an Indigenous leader herself.
It was in part down to the local knowledge of the children and Indigenous adults involved in the search alongside Colombian troops that the youths were ultimately found alive despite the threats of jaguars and snakes, and relentless downpours which may have prevented them from hearing possible calls from search parties.
“The survival of the children is a sign of the knowledge and relationship with the natural environment that is taught starting in the mother’s womb,” according to the National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Colombia.
– Seeds, fruits, roots –
They also ate seeds, fruits, roots and plants that they identified as edible from their upbringing in the Amazon region, Luis Acosta of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia told AFP.
Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez, who visited them in the hospital with President Gustavo Petro, said they are recovering, but cannot yet eat solid food.
The youngest two children, now five and one, spent their birthdays in the jungle, as Lesly, the oldest at just 13, guided them through the ordeal.
“It is thanks to her, her courage and her leadership, that the three others were able to survive, with her care, her knowledge of the jungle,” Velasquez said.
General Pedro Sanchez, who led the search operation, credited Indigenous people involved in the rescue effort with finding the children.
“We found the children: miracle, miracle, miracle!” he told reporters.
Interviewed Sunday on public broadcast channel RTVC, the Indigenous rescue team recounted the first moments after meeting the kids.
“The eldest daughter, Lesly, with the little one in her arms, ran towards me. Lesly said: ‘I’m hungry,’” said Nicolas Ordonez Gomes, one of the search and rescue crew.
“One of the two boys was lying down. He got up and said to me: ‘My mom is dead.’”
“We immediately followed up with positive words, saying that we were friends, that we were sent by the family, the father, the uncle. That we were family!” Ordonez Gomes added.
Army chief Helder Giraldo said rescuers had covered over 2,600 kilometers (1,650 miles) in total to locate the children. “Something that seemed impossible was achieved,” Giraldo said on Twitter.
In addition to the jaguars, snakes and other predators, the area is also home to armed drug smuggling groups.
Petro touted the success as a “meeting of Indigenous and military knowledge” that had demonstrated a “different path towards a new Colombia.”