Colombian personnel continue the search for the missing children in Caquetá. (Photo: Aerocivil)
Colombian authorities, expert personnel, and indigenous volunteers are continuing to search for four missing children nearly a month after a small airplane crashed in a dense, remote area of the Amazon jungle, killing all three of the adults onboard.
The tragedy that has gripped the nation began on May 1 when a chartered Cessna 206 flight with seven passengers enroute from Araracuara to San José del Guaviare crashed, prompting an immediate rescue effort in the rainforest within the near the border of Caqueta and Guaviare.
The aircraft was found roughly two weeks later by members of the indigenous community along with the bodies of the three adults, but evidence discovered around the area, including a makeshift shelter constructed out sticks and branches near the crash site, led officials to believe that the children, including an 11-month old, not only survived the crash but had miraculously remained alive in the proceeding weeks.
The four children missing are: 13-year-old Lesly Mucutuy, 9-year-old Soleiny Mucutuy, 4-year-old Tien Noriel Ronoque Mucutuy, and 11-month-old Cristin Neriman Ranoque Mucutuy. Their mother, Magdalena Mucutuy Valencia, was among those who died in the crash.
With a renewed urgency to find the surviving children, authorities formed Operation Hope — a coalition of uniformed military officers, government agencies, and community groups, including individuals belonging to indigenous groups familiar with the area — to comb the jungle area to continue the search. The children’s father has also been involved and rescuers have played a recorded message from their grandmother in hopes that a familiar voice may help scared children reveal themselves.
On May 17, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced on Twitter that the missing children had been found and were in the custody of the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (Colombian Institute of Family Welfare). But the president later deleted the tweet after it was revealed that the children were not in fact in the custody of the government.
The rescue effort for the children only intensified in the subsequent days, with the military launching flares to make the area more visible to rescuers and the missing children, as well as the use of search dogs, megaphones, whistles, and loudspeakers to try and guide the children towards the rescuers.
“The crews of the AC47 aircraft have made overflights during the night, launching flares at 6,000 feet, illuminating the search area,” said Colonel Iván Mauricio Meza to the press. “This mission was carried out in order to offer light to the children and in this way they can be guided in this inhospitable jungle of Caquetá, arriving at the place where the search troops are located.”
As the children continue to be missing despite the government’s best efforts, Fátima Valencia, the grandmother of the children, has expressed grief over the death of her loved one and questioned whether the family will continue to receive genuine support from the government.
“Many people have had accidents and, for white people, they support them,” said Valencia to the local press. “But for us? Who is going to support us?”
“Is this suddenly going to become a memory or are they going to support me?”
Despite the long time since the accident, the nation continues to hope that the children will be found. And their Valencia has inspired hope that, if anyone could survive here, it is her grandchildren.
“You see, we’re from there, from a community there” in the jungle, she told the Wall Street Journal. “And they know how to make it a few kilometers…They know how to eat fruit from the forest, and seeds. The big one knows. She can feed the little ones.”