There is confusion over whether four children have been found alive in the Amazon rainforest more than two weeks after a plane crash in Colombia, with the country’s president saying they had been found but later retracting the statement.
At the start of the month, a Cessna 206 plane carrying seven people issued a May Day alert some time before the crash, due to apparant engine trouble. Three adults, including the pilot, died in the crash and their bodies were found inside the plane.
Four children, aged 13, nine and four, as well as an 11-month-old baby, are believed to have survived the impact but authorities said they have yet to make contact with them.
On Wednesday, president Gustavo Petro claimed in a statement on Twitter that the children had been found after a search by members of the military, firefighters and civil aviation authority officials in the dense jungle of Colombia’s Caqueta province.
“After arduous searching by our military, we have found alive the four children who went missing after a plane crash in Guaviare. A joy for the country,” Mr Petro said.
However, on Thursday he deleted the statement and said: “I am sorry for what happened. The military forces and Indigenous communities will continue in their tireless search to give the country the news it is waiting for,” he added.
The government's child welfare agency, ICBF, said it had received information "from the field" that the children had been found in good health. However, defence ministry sources have told local media they have no confirmation they have been found.
“Information was received from the area assuring contact was made with the four children who were part of the group transported on the aircraft. This report stated that they had been found alive and in good health,” said a statement from the ICBF.
“However, the military forces have not yet been able to establish official contact due to adverse weather conditions and difficult terrain,” the statement added. Authorities have not been able to “corroborate the information received by the ICBF from various sources.”
Civil aviation authorities, which coordinated the rescue efforts, believe the children escaped the plane after the crash and set off into the rainforest to find help. Efforts to find them were stepped up after rescue teams, including search dogs, found discarded fruit the children ate to survive and improvised shelters made with jungle vegetation.
Después de arduas labores de búsqueda de nuestras Fuerzas Militares, hemos encontrado con vida a los 4 niños que habían desaparecido por el accidente aéreo en Guaviare. Una alegría para el país.
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) May 17, 2023
One of the deceased, identified as Ranoque Mucutuy, was the mother of the four children who are of Huitoto ethnicity.
Authorities said rescue efforts included three helicopters, including one which blasted out a recorded message from the children’s grandmother in the Huitoto language telling them to stop moving through the jungle.
The plane had been on a route between Araracuara in Amazonas province and San Jose del Guaviare, a city in the southern Guaviare province when it disappeared in the early hours of 1 May.
Additional reporting by agencies