Kids missing in jungle after plane crash could be alive after new clues found

New clues have given hope to the desperate search of the Colombian Amazon jungle for four children, who have been missing for nearly a month. Lesly, 13, Soleiny, nine, Tien Noriel, four, and Cristin, 11 months, were travelling in a light Cessna 206 aeroplane which crashed on May 1. The incident, believed to have been triggered by an engine failure, claimed the lives of the children’s mother, Magdalena Mucutui Valencia, the pilot, and an indigenous leader.

The finding of the wreckage a fortnight later without any sign of the children sparked a massive search in the inhospitable area, involving more than 200 people, an effort combining both members of the Colombian military and the indigenous communities.

Over the past weeks, the search team has been combing through some 320 square kilometres of the dense jungle area.

This week, Army leaders claimed it is “highly probable” that the children are still alive after they found a footprint on the muddy jungle floor in the search area of Caqueta and Putumayo.

Given the size of the shoes compared to that of the boot of a military man, Army officials are confident the footprint was left by Lesly.

Prior to this key finding, the last major development to the frantic search happened on May 23, when one clean and one used nappy, a bottle cap and a mobile phone case were found in two different places.

Army members are hoping the children are taking advantage of fruits available in the area to remain strong, including mangoes and borojos.

The instinct of the children will play a big part in their survival also because the area where they are believed to be in is home to a number of dangerous animals, including snakes and jaguars.

The search, which is also carried out at night, continues to advance on strategic points with the help of satellite equipment that guides the troops and indigenous communities.

Brigadier General and Joint Commander of Special Operations of the Military Forces, Pedro Arnulfo Sánchez Suárez, told Colombia Hoy Radio the evidence found is suggesting they are getting closer to the children.

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He said: “We believe we have passed within 200 to 300 metres of them. We have found evidence and we have corroborated it with GPS, like when we found the two nappies, one used, that we passed about 100 metres from them.”

The current best guess of the search party on the whereabouts of the children is San Jorge river, a territory where there are no settlements or communities.

The brigadier continued: “We believe that they changed course to the north and east, and the indications are that they are heading towards the Apaporis River. So the search is narrowed down with our 119 commandos and 72 indigenous people.”

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Hope is not lost, the Army official stressed, adding: “Our men are not tired, not in their hearts and not in their souls”.

The fact the children haven’t yet been found while clues of their movements were spotted is a positive sign, the brigadier general added, as he said: “We are not going to finish this operation until the end or until logic says so.

“They are alive; if they were dead, it would have been easier to find them because they would have been static and the search dogs would have detected them because of the smell”.

The search on the ground is being supported in the air through the use of an aircraft able to detect heat and take photographs 30 centimetres above ground level.

The air force has also dumped some 10,000 flyers into the forest with instructions in both Spanish and the children’s indigenous Huitoto language, telling them to stay put and providing them with survival tips.

To let the children know they can trust the soldiers, rescuers have also been broadcasting a message recorded by the children’s grandmother, urging them to stay put so that they can be found.

Since the search began, experts found a total of 11 leads, which helped trace the possible route taken by the resilient children.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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