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In Colombia, the race against time to find children lost in the Amazon rainforest


The jungle, dense and immense, awaits in the distance. “The children are alive”, says Colonel Fausto Avellaneda who, on the tarmac of the military heliport of San José de Guaviare, in eastern Colombia, coordinates the logistics of Operation “Hope”. The chances of finding the four children who, on the 1er may, survived the crash of their plane, seem very thin. But here in the department of Guaviare, no one doubts that Lesly, 13, Soleiny, 9, Tien, 4, and 12-month-old Cristin are still alive. Saturday, June 3, the colonel supervises the departure of two “handler-dog pairs” civil defense which will be “inserted in the jungle », 175 kilometers away, to join the search teams.

The pilot of the Cessna 206 which crashed following an engine failure had had time to alert the control tower. But it took two weeks to locate the carcass of the small plane in the thickness of the forest. The bodies of the three adults traveling on board (the pilot, the children’s mother and an Indian chief) were found. The children inexplicably survived and disappeared. There was no trace of blood in the back of the cabin. Next to the plane, a bag was opened. The imagination ignited.

Two days later, on May 17, a communication error came to fuel expectations. Local child protection services informed the national leadership in Bogotá that the children had been found. The inaccurate announcement, sent to President Gustavo Petro, immediately ended up on his Twitter feed. It was picked up by the media without anyone bothering to call the military to verify it. The next day, the head of state had to delete his tweet.

The hope of finding the children is all the stronger because they have left traces. First a baby bottle was found, then leaves cut as if to make a shelter, a hair elastic, a pair of scissors, used diapers and footprints. The children moved several kilometers, but did not walk in a straight line.

“Joint Commandos”

“It wouldn’t be the first time that indigenous children have survived alone in the jungle for days on end,” recalls Colonel Avellaneda. The four children belong to the Huitoto community. They know the terrain. The governor of the department of Guaviare, Heydeer Palacio, agrees. “Our kids, the whites, are incapable, he said. But an indigenous child can swim at 4 years old. At 9 years old, he knows how to recognize edible fruits and sins. And at 13, a little native is practically an adult. »

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