Forty days of worry, false hopes, until the unexpected outcome. This weekend, Colombia is blowing after the rescue of Lesly (13), Soleiny (9), Tien Noriel (4) and Cristin (1), lost after weeks of search in the middle of the impenetrable Amazon jungle. Research punctuated by twists and turns, which mobilized considerable resources.
La alegría es inmensa, el agradecimiento a nuestras @FuerzasMilCol y comunidades indígenas será eterno. Nunca dejamos de buscarlos hasta que el milagro llegó. #OperaciónEsperanza pic.twitter.com/iVWPCOTpYv
— Mindefensa (@mindefensa) June 10, 2023
The journey began on May 1. Originally from the Uitoto indigenous group, the four children were travelling with three adults on a small plane between the Araracuara jungle and the southern city of San Jose del Guaviare. In the morning, the aircraft, a Cessna 206, crashed in the forest. It will take authorities 16 days to find the crash site. They then found the bodies of the children's mother, the pilot and a relative.
Lesly, her sisters and little brother, remain absent. On the ground lies a bottle. Small footprints, recent, are visible. The military and civil aviation authorities believe the children survived. Operation "Hope", "Esperanza" in Spanish, is underway. 120 soldiers, 72 volunteers, members of local indigenous communities, and dog teams roam the jungle to find the four children.
Thunderstorms, wild animals and "spiritual processes"
The mission is tough. We have to deal with frequent storms, snakes, jaguars prowling in the thick Amazon jungle. To prevent children from moving too far, Air Force helicopters fly over the area. They broadcast messages from the children's grandmother, calling on them to stop, and drop leaflets and survival kits containing food and water.
The natives, on the other hand, say they carry out "spiritual processes" to make the jungle "speak". Concrete signs are multiplying: rescuers find shelter made of branches, two layers, a pair of shoes. A tracker dog flushes out a pair of scissors and a headband for hair.
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On May 17, it's the turnaround. Gustavo Petro, the Colombian president announces that the children have been found alive on Twitter. Problem: The information is not confirmed. Petro retracts the next day, the Colombians are confused. Three weeks later, more bad news emerges. Wilson, the six-year-old Belgian shepherd who had spotted a bottle on the accident, disappears in turn, "disoriented" because of the "complex terrain".
As hope dwindled on Friday, a miracle took place. A few kilometers from the crash, the siblings are found alive, but fragile. During the night, in the middle of the bushy and opaque trees, a helicopter was able to extract them at an altitude of 60 m. From now on, children are cared for by doctors. Perhaps in the coming weeks they will explain how they survived for so long in such a hostile environment.