A custody battle has broken out among relatives of four Indigenous children who survived a plane crash and 40 harrowing days alone in the Amazon rainforest in an extraordinary showing of youthful resilience that captivated people around the world.
The siblings, ranging in age from 1 to 13, remained hospitalized Monday and were expected to stay there for several more days, a period that Colombia’s child protection agency is using to interview family members to determine who should care for them after their mother died in the May 1 crash.
Astrid Cáceres, head of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, said in an interview with BLU radio that a caseworker was assigned to the children at the request of their maternal grandparents, who are vying for custody with the father of the two youngest.
“We are going to talk, investigate, learn a little about the situation,” Cáceres said, adding that the agency has not ruled out that they and their mother may have experienced domestic abuse.
Ranoque acknowledged to reporters that there had been trouble at home, but he characterized it as a private family matter and not “gossip for the world.”
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 allowed to see the two oldest children at the hospital. Cáceres declined to comment on why that was the case.
As they convalesce, the children have told relatives harrowing details of 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 Sunday.
Having a safe environment to talk openly about their experience and whatever emotions they may be feeling, be it grief or pride over having survived, will be key to recovery, said Dr. Robert Sege, a pediatrician and director of the Center for Community-Engaged Medicine at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
Soldiers in helicopters dropped boxes of food into the jungle, and planes fired off flares at night to illuminate the ground for crews searching around the clock. Rescuers also used speakers to blast a message recorded by the children’s grandmother telling them to stay in one place.
The children were ultimately found last Friday about 3 miles from the crash in a small clearing. Gen. Pedro Sanchez, who led the search effort as chief of the military’s Special Operations Command, said rescuers had passed within 70 to 160 feet of the site on a couple of occasions but missed them.