Colombian President Gustavo Petro has raised scepticism over reports claiming the rescue of four children who went missing after their plane crashed in the jungle over two weeks ago.
Despite search teams finding items believed to belong to the children, who belong to the Huitoto indigenous group, as well as a makeshift shelter, President Petro has stated that the information regarding their rescue remains unverified.
The children, ranging from the age of 11 months to 13 years, were passengers aboard the Cessna 206 light aircraft with their mother, a pilot, and a co-pilot when it crashed on May 1. All the adults onboard perished in the accident.
The news of the alleged rescue initially came from President Petro himself on Wednesday afternoon local time, through a tweet in which he announced that the children had been found after extensive search efforts.
However, less than 24 hours later, he deleted the tweet, stating that the information provided by Colombia's child welfare agency, ICBF, could not be confirmed.
Petro expressed his apologies for the incident and assured the public that the armed forces and indigenous communities would persist in their relentless search for the missing children.
The ICBF, which had initially corroborated the president's now-deleted tweet, released a statement stating that the information they provided was based on field reports. The agency's director, Astrid Cáceres, affirmed that they received information from reliable sources describing the children's appearance, which matched that of the missing children. However, she acknowledged that the agency had yet to physically confirm their rescue, emphasising that the search efforts would continue until visual contact was established.
The child welfare agency was not the only entity to claim to receive information regarding the children's rescue. A pilot also reported being informed that indigenous individuals deep within the rainforest had found the children. However, soldiers participating in the search efforts stated that adverse weather conditions and challenging terrain had hindered their ability to establish contact with the children.
Colonel Juan José López stated on Wednesday they believed the children were alive based on the traces found in a different location away from the crash site, where they might have sought shelter. Concerned that the children may be venturing deeper into the jungle, the military deployed helicopters that played a recorded message from the children's grandmother in the Huitoto language, urging them to stay in place.
Reports of sightings of the children circulated on Wednesday. Local plane operator Avianline issued a statement acknowledging reports of the children's discovery. According to one of their pilots, who landed in the community near the crash site, locals claimed they had been contacted via radio from a remote location called Dumar, informing them of the children's rescue. The plan was to transport the children by boat to Cachiporro.
The company, however, stressed that they could not verify the information and cited heavy rains, which had rendered the river unnavigable, as a potential reason for the delayed arrival of the children by boat.