Colombia Marks 1St Anniversary Of Rescue Of 4 Children In The Amazon After Their Plane Crashed

BOGOTÁ, Colombia (AP) — Colombia marked the first anniversary Sunday of the rescue of four Indigenous children who survived a small plane crash in the Amazon rainforest in an operation that gripped the world’s attention. A small ceremony was held in a Bogota military base that included an emotional reunion between soldiers and Indigenous volunteers.

But the four children, who were found in a remote patch of rainforest a year ago after fending for themselves for 40 days, still face an uncertain future as authorities wait for a case worker to decide who should be awarded custody.

The siblings from Colombia’s Huitoto tribe were aged 13, 9, 4 and 11 months old when the single-engine plane they were traveling in nosedived into the rainforest’s canopy, killing their mother, Magdalena Mucutuy, and the other two adults on board. The group was travelling from the small village of Araracuara, deep in the Colombian Amazon to the town of San Jose del Guaviare.

On Sunday, Colombia’s Institute for Family Welfare posted a photo of the four children with their faces blurred on its X account, formerly Twitter, and published a statement saying they were healthy and were growing up successfully under state care.

“The Mucutuy siblings today spend their days enjoying life and learning. They have been accompanied by a team that specializes in ethnic affairs and works so that they don’t lose their customs while they are far from their territory,” the statement read.

The siblings survived on fruits and seeds from the rainforest before they were found on June 9 by a team of special forces soldiers and Indigenous volunteers. They had been combing the rough terrain around the plane crash for three weeks and used sniffer dogs and helicopters to locate the children.

However, a custody battle over the children broke out after their rescue that pitted their maternal grandparents against their deceased mother’s partner, Manuel Ranoque.

Ranoque is the biological father of the two youngest children Tien and Cristin. And he also lived with the two older children and their mother for several years before the crash.

Ranoque was imprisoned in August of last year, over accusations that he had sexually abused of one of the children, before the crash.

In October, prosecutors in Colombia formally charged Ranoque with sexually assaulting a minor, an accusation he denies and says he will challenge in an upcoming trial.

On Sunday some of the relatives of the Mucutuy children also joined the soldiers and volunteers who were part of last year’s rescue effort, known as “Operation Hope.” They heard a mass and shared a barbeque with the rescue team and spoke briefly with the local press.

“I’m sad because I am still not with the children,” Fatima Valencia, the children’s grandmother told Colombia’s Caracol TV. “But I am very thankful to those who helped us rescue them.”