Four native children survived a plane crash and 40 days alone in the Amazon rainforest in Colombia. Now, a custody battle has started among their family members.
The children are siblings, or brothers and sisters. They range in age from 1 to 13. They remained hospitalized Monday and are expected to stay there for several more days. During that time, Colombia's child protection agency is speaking to family members to decide who should care for them after their mother died in the crash on May 1.
Astrid Cáceres is head of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare. She said in a radio discussion that a caseworker was assigned to the children at the request of their mother’s parents. The grandparents are competing for custody with the father of the two youngest children.
Cáceres added that it was be possible that the children and their mother experienced abuse. “The most important thing at this moment is the children’s health, which is not only physical but also emotional,” she said.
On Sunday, grandfather Narciso Mucutuy accused Manuel Ranoque of beating his daughter, Magdalena Mucuty. Ranoque is the father of the two youngest children.
Mucutuy told reporters that the children would hide in the forest when Ranoque and his daughter fought.
Ranoque told reporters that there had been trouble at home. But he called it as a private family concern and not “gossip for the world.”
When asked whether he had attacked his wife, Ranoque said: “Verbally, sometimes, yes. Physically, very little. We had more verbal fights.”
Ranoque said he has not been permitted to see the two oldest children at the hospital. Cáceres did not provide a comment on why Ranoque could not see them.
On May 1, the children were traveling by plane with their mother from the Amazonian village of Araracuara to the town of San Jose del Guaviare. The plane’s engine failed. It fell off radar a short time later. A search then began for the three adults and four children who were on the plane.
For more than a month, the children survived by eating cassava flour and seeds as well as some fruits they found in the rainforest. The children are members of the Huitoto Indigenous group.
The siblings were finally found Friday, 40 days after the crash. They were flown to the capital, Bogota. Then they arrived at a military hospital, where they have received mental health services and other support.
As they recover, the children have spoken with family members about their time in the jungle. The oldest, Lesly Jacobombaire Mucutuy, said their mother was alive for about four days after the crash before dying, Ranoque said.
The plane was found two weeks after the crash in a thick area of rainforest. The bodies of the three adults were recovered, but there was no sign of the children. That led people to hope that they were still alive.
Soldiers in helicopters dropped boxes of food into the jungle. Planes fired off flares at night to light up the ground for search teams. Rescuers also used speakers to send a message recorded by the children's grandmother telling them to stay in one place.
The children were finally found last Friday about five kilometers from the crash in a small opening in the jungle. General Pedro Sanchez led the search effort as chief of the military's Special Operations Command.
Relatives and officials have praised Lesly for guiding her younger siblings through the 40 days in the jungle. The youngest child turned 1 while they were missing.
I’m Caty Weaver.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
custody — n. the legal right to take care of a child
gossip — n. information about the behavior and personal lives of other people
radar — n. a device that sends out radio waves for finding out the position and speed of a moving object
indigenous — adj. produced, living, or existing naturally in a particular region or environment
flare — n. a light that shines brightly and briefly
relative — n. a member of your family