A Plane Crashed in the Amazon. Did Four Children Survive?

For more than two weeks, search-and-rescue teams in Colombia have scoured the Amazon rainforest for four children who were aboard a plane that crashed on May 1. The bodies of the three adults on board were found in the wreckage, but there was no sign of the children.

Then, on Wednesday night, Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, posted on Twitter what appeared to be remarkable news: The country’s armed forces had found the four children, the oldest of whom is 13 and the youngest a baby, alive. “A joy for our country,” he said.

But he may have spoken too soon. Quickly, local news reports cited military sources that said the armed forces had not made contact with the children, and the nation’s child-welfare agency, the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, known by its Spanish initials I.C.B.F., then confirmed that in a statement.

“Information was received from the territory assuring contact was made with the four boys and girls,” the agency said late Wednesday. “However, the military forces have not yet been able to establish official contact due to adverse weather conditions and difficult terrain.”

By Thursday morning, Mr. Petro had deleted his tweet, but then later posted another tweet seeking to explain his actions.

“I have decided to delete the tweet because the information provided by the ICBF could not be confirmed. I regret what happened,” he wrote. “The Military Forces and the Indigenous communities will continue in their tireless search to give the country the news it is waiting for. At this moment there is no other priority than to move forward with the search until they are found. The children’s lives are the most important thing.”

Adding to the confusion, that same morning, Astrid Cáceres, director of the child-welfare agency, said in an interview with local news media that the children were, in fact, “fine” and under the care of an Indigenous community that had helped with the search. “The level of precision in the details really encourages us,” Ms. Cáceres said of the initial report that the children had been found. “We are waiting to make contact.”

The conflicting information left the nation mystified over the fate of the four Indigenous children — ages 13, 9 and 4 years old, and 11 months — who have been the focus of an intense jungle search since the Cessna plane they were traveling in crashed in the rainforest.

A photo released by the Colombian military showed a plane that crashed in the forest in a rural area near Solano.Credit…Colombian Army

A spokesperson for the child-welfare agency told The New York Times on Thursday that Ms. Cáceres and the head of the civil aviation authority were traveling to the remote area to investigate.

The discovery of the four children alive would raise a number of questions, including how children so young managed to drink, eat and take care of themselves alone for so many days.

The children, members of the Huitoto Indigenous community, had been traveling with their mother and an Indigenous leader from the tiny Amazon community of Araracuara, Colombia, to San José del Guaviare, a small city in central Colombia along the Guaviare River. The pilot reported engine failure and declared an emergency before disappearing from radar around 7:30 a.m. on May 1.

The Colombian air force and military soon deployed search-and-rescue planes and helicopters, as well as land and river teams. Indigenous communities in the region also joined the effort.

Using a speaker that produces sound loud enough to be heard within a roughly mile-wide radius, they played a recording made by the children’s grandmother in Huitoto, their native language.

According to a Colombian news outlet, El Tiempo, the four children and their mother had been traveling to meet their father, who had fled the area after receiving threats from armed insurgents.

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