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 on Saturday, a day after the group was rescued.
The brothers, aged 1 to 13, were recovering in a military hospital in Bogotá, the capital, and were said to be in good health and good spirits on Saturday when they were visited by President Gustavo Petro and others officials.
The country has been captivated by the story of the children, with many eagerly awaiting news of their fate since their plane crashed on May 1. The children, members of the Huitoto indigenous community, had traveled with their mother and an indigenous leader from the small Amazon community of Araracuara, Colombia, to San José del Guaviare, a small town in central Colombia along the Guaviare River.
When rescuers reached the crash site last month, the bodies of the three adults they were traveling with were found, but there was no sign of the children.
Officials had said in recent weeks they had reason to believe the children survived the crash. When news of their survival and discovery broke on Friday, the country erupted in celebration.
Carlos Rincón, the military doctor who evaluated the children, said they survived with only minor cuts and scrapes. In photos released by the government on Friday, the babies looked thin and the doctor said they were not yet receiving solid food. He said he expected them to be released from the hospital in two to three weeks.
Defense Minister Iván Velásquez, who was among the officials to visit the children, he praised the oldest, Lesly Mucutuy, 13, for ensuring the survival of the group.
« We have to recognize not only his courage but also his leadership, » he said. “It was thanks to her that the three little brothers managed to survive alongside her, 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 national child welfare agency. Lei tien, 5, asks for books to read, while the 1-year-old « has a peace of mind working with nurses that you can’t imagine, » added Ms. Cáceres.
« Lesly smiled at us, hugged us, » she said. « She wants to play, she’s bored in bed. »
Two of the children’s birthdays occurred during their stay in the jungle. Tien turned five and the youngest, Cristin, turned one.
« Celebrating birthdays is overdue, » Ms. Cáceres said at the press conference. “So we invite the country right now to celebrate.
He added that the four children « have secured educations » due to « commitments to the president to protect and care for these children for life. »
The government has provided few details on where the children were.
Special forces troops found the children late Friday afternoon following footprints and food tracks, according to a military spokesman.
The babies were « very weak, » she said. « I think if a few more days had passed we wouldn’t have found them alive. »
« Miracle, miracle miracle was the keyword to report that they had found them, » he added.
In a coordinated search effort called Operation Hope, soldiers and natives traveled approximately 1,650 miles as they searched for the brothers.
After visiting the hospital with his wife and two daughters, President 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 this is the true path to peace. »