For Four Indigenous Children Lost in Colombian Jungle, Fate Still Unknown

The Colombian government announced Wednesday the rescue of four Huitoto children 17 days after they vanished into the jungle following a plane crash. But contradictory reports and lack of photo documentation quickly curtailed celebrations. As of this writing, the fate of the children is still unknown.

On Wednesday evening, Colombian president Gustavo Petro took to Twitter to broadcast a successful rescue, saying, “After arduous search efforts by our Military Forces, we have found alive the 4 children who had disappeared due to the plane crash. A joy for the country.”

Shortly thereafter, local outlets reported that military sources had not confirmed the rescue. On Thursday, President Petro deleted his tweet.

“I have decided to delete this tweet because the information provided…could not be confirmed,” Petro wrote on Twitter shortly after removing his previous message. “I’m sorry about what happened. The Military Forces and the indigenous communities will continue their tireless search to give the country the news it is waiting for. At this moment, there is no other priority other than moving forward with the search until you find them. Children’s lives are the most important thing.”

According to the Colombian outlet El Espectador, the confusion began when a regional director of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) notified the president that the children had been rescued with minor injuries. But that director was operating on second-hand information, El Espectador reported, leading the president to walk back his statement.

a man and a dog

The Colombian military, dog teams, local indigenous populations, and others have joined together in the search. Photo: Colombian National Army


But a quote obtained by CNN indicates that lower-level officials are standing by their claims and that the children are moving downriver on a boat.

“The information I have is that they are fine, we also understand they had very hard days, but these are kids who moved around the area, and they seemed ok,” Astrid Caceres, director of ICBF, told the outlet.

Meanwhile, rescue parties comprised of dog teams, local indigenous peoples, military, and civilian organizations continue the search.

“We are still missing that very, very last link that confirms all our hopes. Until we have the photo of the kids we won’t be stopping. We are not underestimating the information we received but we want to confirm [directly] ourselves,” Caceres shared with CNN.

A jungle tragedy

The children included a 13-year-old, 9-year-old, 4-year-old, and an 11-month-old baby. They disappeared after a Cessna 206 operated by Avianline Charters SAS went down due to mechanical failure, The Guardian noted. The crash killed the three adults on the plane (the pilot, the children’s mother, and one other adult), leaving the four children to their own devices. By the time rescue crews arrived at the scene, the children had moved away from the crash site, leaving a trail of belongings and other clues in their wake.

a bottle and a pair of scissors

Some of the belongings left behind by the children as they ventured into the jungle. Photo: Columbian Civil Aviation Authority


One of those clues was, “bitten fruits of the jungle,” a Colombian official told ABC International.

Other small belongings left behind included hair ties, clothes, a bottle, scissors, and shoes, the outlet reported.

Broadcasting hope

The rescue, dubbed “Operation Hope,” comprises several wings of the Colombian government, including the Air Force.

As weather allows, three helicopters are crisscrossing the skies above the dense jungle in the Guaviere region of the Amazonas province. The rescue party equipped one of the aircraft with a loudspeaker that’s blasting a message recorded in the Huitoto language by the children’s grandmother.

In the message, the woman encourages her grandchildren that the search is ongoing, and asks them not to keep moving through the jungle, according to ABC International.

“We just pray (to) god that in a few hours we all have the news we are waiting for, and see these kids,” Giselle Lopez, co-owner of Avianline Charters SAS,” said to CNN.

Lopez went on to explain that strong storms, loss of radio signals, and difficult river navigation could be delaying the much-anticipated news.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
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