Small footprints thought to belong to a child have been found by search teams hunting for four youngsters lost in the Columbian jungle after their plane crashed.

The new tracks were found this week almost a month after the aircraft came down rekindling hope of finding the quartet alive. Searchers also found a makeshift shelter and items belonging to the children – aged 13, 9, 4 and 11 months – including the lid of a baby’s bottle.

General Pedro Sánchez, commander of the Joint Command of Special Operations, said: “We have a 100 per cent expectation of finding them alive.”

Here’s what we know so far about the quest to find the children and the crash.

FILE - In this photo released by Colombia's Armed Forces Press Office, a soldier stands in front of the wreckage of a Cessna C206, May 18, 2023, that crashed in the jungle of Solano in the Caqueta state of Colombia. The discovery of footprints on May 30 of a small foot rekindled the hope of finding the children alive after their plane crashed on May 1. Soldiers found the wreckage and the bodies of three adults, including the pilot and the children's mother. (Colombia's Armed Forces Press Office via AP, File)
The bodies of three adults were found in the wreckage of a Cessna C206 which crashed in the jungle of Solano in the Caqueta state of Colombia (Photo: Colombia’s Armed Forces Press Office/AP)

What happened to the children?

A small plane, carrying three adults and four indigenous children crashed on 1 May in dense jungle in Colombia.

The light aircraft was travelling between Araracuara, in Amazonas province, and San Jose del Guaviare, a city in Guaviare province, when the pilot issued a mayday alert due to engine failure.

All three adults, including the pilot, died in the incident and their bodies were found inside the plane about two weeks after the crash. According to local reports, one of the adults was the mother of the four children.

But the whereabouts of the children remains a mystery.

A handout picture released by the Colombian army shows a feeding bottle found in the forest in a rural area of the municipality of Solano, department of Caqueta, Colombia, on May 17, 2023. More than 100 soldiers with sniffer dogs are following the "trail" of four missing children in the Colombian Amazon after a small plane crash that killed three adults, the military said Wednesday. (Photo by Handout / Colombian army / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / COLOMBIAN ARMY " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo by HANDOUT/Colombian army/AFP via Getty Images)
A baby’s bottle was found in the forest during the search (Photo: Colombian Army/Getty)

Have any other clues been found?

More than 100 members of Colombia’s special forces and more than 70 indigenous people from the area have joined the search through virgin jungle in the Colombian Amazon.

Some soldiers have walked almost 1,000 miles, according to General Sánchez, in the quest to find the children.

So far, they have found a baby’s bottle, some towels, used nappies, some scissors and footprints in places relatively close to the place where the accident occurred.

Rescuers, supported by search dogs, are also reported to have found discarded fruit and improvised shelters made with jungle vegetation.

The discovery of further footprints on Tuesday, believed to belong to the 13-year-old girl based on the size about two miles northwest of where the plane crashed, have raised hopes the children may still be found alive.

General Sanchez said: “It’s not like finding a needle in a haystack, it’s like finding a tiny flea in a huge rug that moves in unpredictable directions.

“We found elements that are very complex to find in the jungle.

“For example, the lid of a baby bottle.

“If we’ve found that, why don’t we find the rest?

“Because the children are on the move.”

General Pedro Sanchez, the commander of the joint command of special operations of the military forces, welcomes Indigenous people the airport in San Jose del Guaviare, Colombia, Sunday, May 21, 2023, after they arrived to help in the search of four Indigenous children who are missing after a deadly plane crash. The May 30 discovery of footprints of a small foot rekindled the hope of finding the children alive after their plane crashed on May 1. Soldiers found the wreckage and the bodies of three adults, including the pilot and the children's mother. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
General Pedro Sánchez, the commander of the joint command of special operations of the military forces, welcomes Indigenous people arrived to help in the search for the four children missing after the plane crash (Photo: Fernando Vergara/AP)

Searchers believe the children may have changed course but are likely to be alive still because otherwise animals would have been drawn to their remains.

Areas checked have been marked off with tape and whistles left to call for help in case the children come across them

Recordings of the voice of the children’s grandmother have also been blasted out across the area telling them to stop moving.

But the teams are working under arduous conditions in the hunt to find the children, according to the general, who said special forces soldiers work in rotations, dealing with up to 16 hours a day of rain which can wipe out any tracks of the children and poor visibility of less than 20 metre in the dense jungle.

They are also having to brave wild animals such as jaguars, ocelots, poisonous snakes – and mosquitos that carry diseases.

What have authorities said about the search?

Confusion reigned in the early days of the search after President Petro issued a statement on Twitter claiming: “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.”

This was countered by local media reports in which the military and the police denied the children had been found.

The family of the children, reportedly from the Huitoto indigenous group, criticised what they described as “false expectations” about the situation and urged for clarity.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has now said finding the children is a priority and General Sánchez said no deadline has been set for ending the search.

By admin