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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Colombian children rescued from jungle are said to be in good health

The four siblings had been missing after a plane they were traveling in crashed in the Colombian rainforest in May.

By Genevieve Glatsky

Four Colombian children who survived in the Colombian jungle for 40 days after their plane crashed were eager to play and asked for books to read, officials said Saturday, one day after the group was rescued.

The siblings, ages 1 to 13, were recuperating at a military hospital in Bogotá, the capital, and were said to be in good health and spirits Saturday, when they were visited by President Gustavo Petro and other officials.

The country has been captivated by the children’s story, with many eagerly awaiting news of their fate since their plane crashed May 1. The children, members of the Huitoto Indigenous community, had been traveling with their mother and an Indigenous leader from the tiny Amazon community of Araracuara, Colombia, to San José del Guaviare, a small city in central Colombia along the Guaviare River.

When rescuers reached the crash site last month, the bodies of the three adults with whom they were traveling were found, but there was no sign of the children.

Officials had said over the past few weeks that they had reason to believe the children survived the crash. When news of their survival and discovery broke Friday, the country erupted in celebration.

Carlos Rincón, the military doctor who evaluated the children, said they had survived with only mild cuts and scrapes. In photos released by the government Friday, the children appeared gaunt and the doctor said they were not yet receiving solid food. He said he expected they could be discharged from the hospital in two to three weeks.

Defense Minister Iván Velásquez, who was among the officials to visit the children, praised the oldest, Lesly Mucutuy, 13, for ensuring the survival of the group.

“We have to recognize not only her courage, but also her leadership,” he said. “It was because of her that the three little siblings were able to survive by her side, with her care, with her knowledge of the jungle.”

Lesly’s 9-year-old sister, Soleiny, “talks a lot,” said Astrid Cáceres, director of the nation’s child welfare agency. Tien, 5, is asking for books to read, while the 1-year-old “has a tranquility to work with the nurses that you cannot imagine,” Cáceres added.

“Lesly smiled at us, gave us hugs,” she said. “She wants to play; she is bored in bed.”

Two of the children’s birthdays passed during their time in the jungle. Tien turned 5 and the youngest, Cristin, turned 1.

“The celebration of the birthdays is overdue,” Cáceres said at a news conference. “So we invite the country at this time to celebrate.”

She added that the four children “have an assured education” because of “commitments with the president to protect and care for these children for their entire lives.”

The government has provided few details on how the children were located.

Special forces troops found the children late Friday afternoon by following footprints and traces of food, according to a military spokesperson.

The children were “very weak” he said. “I think if a few more days had passed we wouldn’t have found them alive.

“Miracle, miracle, miracle was the key word to report that they had found them,” he added.

In a coordinated search effort called Operation Hope, soldiers and Indigenous people covered approximately 1,650 miles while looking for the siblings.

After visiting the hospital along with his wife and two daughters, Petro praised the cooperation between the military and Indigenous groups and the “respect for the jungle” on Twitter.

“Here is a different path for Colombia,” he wrote. “I believe that this is the true path to peace.”

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