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Colombia plane crash: Mum told children to leave her and get help

June 13, 2023

The mother of four children rescued after 40 days in the Amazon jungle was alive for four days after their plane crashed.

Magdalena Mucutuy told her children to leave and find help as she lay dying.

Speaking to reporters, the children’s father, Manuel Ranoque, said his eldest daughter told him their mother urged them to “get out” and save themselves.

The siblings, aged 13, nine, five, and one, were rescued and airlifted out of the jungle on Friday.

They were moved to a military hospital in the nation’s capital Bogota.

“The one thing that [13-year-old Lesly] has cleared up for me is that, in fact, her mother was alive for four days,” Mr Ranoque told reporters outside the hospital.

“Before she died, their mum 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,” he said.

Details have been emerging about the children’s time in the jungle and their miraculous rescue – including the first things the children said when they were found.

Rescue worker Nicolás Ordóñez Gomes recalled the moment they discovered the children.

“The eldest daughter, Lesly, with the little one in her arms, ran towards me. Lesly said: ‘I’m hungry,'” he told public broadcast channel RTVC.

One of the two boys was lying down. He got up and said to me: ‘My mum is dead.'” He said rescuers responded with “positive words, saying that we were friends, that we were sent by the family”.

Mr Ordóñez said the boy replied: “I want some bread and sausage.”

The children are members of the Huitoto indigenous group and their grandfather told Colombian media that their knowledge of edible fruit and seeds had been key to their survival.

The eldest child, 13-year-old Lesly, has been credited with keeping her siblings alive.

Henry Guerrero, an indigenous man who was part of the team which finally located the children, said they managed to build a small shelter.

“They had made a small tent from a tarpaulin and placed a towel on the ground. They always stayed near the river and she [Lesly] carried a small soda bottle which she used to [fill with and] carry water.”

In footage released on Sunday of the children’s rescue, the four siblings appeared to be emaciated from the weeks they spent fending for themselves in the wilderness.

Mr Guerrero said that “the only thing they had in mind was to eat, eat”, when they were found. “They wanted to eat rice pudding, they wanted to eat bread,” he said.

Ms Mucutuy and her children had been travelling on the Cessna 206 aircraft from Araracuara, in Amazonas province, to San José del Guaviare, on 1 May.

Their plan was to join the children’s father, who had fled their home after receiving threats from a rebel group.

The plane crashed nose first in dense jungle in the south of Colombia after experiencing engine failure. It took search teams two weeks to locate the wreckage.

The bodies of the adults on board – the children’s mother and the two pilots – were found at the crash site by the army but it appeared that the children had wandered into the rainforest to find help.

The missing children became the focus of a huge rescue operation involving more than 100 soldiers, local indigenous people and sniffer dogs.

The search teams repeatedly spotted signs in the jungle, including footprints and fruit that had been bitten into, which led them to believe the children had survived the crash.

Helicopters flew over the area broadcasting a recorded message from their grandmother in the Huitoto language urging them to stay put to make it easier to locate them.

The children told their rescuers that they had heard the helicopters and the message.

They were finally located on Friday in a small clearing by a team of rescuers who had heard one of the siblings crying. “When we found them, it was really a great happiness,” Mr Guerrero said, describing the moment.

Their grandfather, Fidencio Valencia, said they were “very weakened, they have small wounds and bruises, they have illnesses that they contracted in the jungle, but overall they’re well, they’re in good hands”.

He added that a bag of cassava flour the children had found in the plane had sustained them for the first weeks.

They are being treated in hospital for malnutrition and dehydration and have been visited by their family and members of the search operation.

The Colombian military tweeted drawings the children had painted, one of which shows a sniffer dog known as Wilson.

Wilson, who lost contact with his handlers, is thought to have tracked the children down and spent some time with them in the jungle but is now unaccounted for.

The Colombian military said it would continue searching for the dog, assuring Colombians in a tweet that “we leave no one behind”.

(BBC News)

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