BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia's president handed out 86 medals Monday to soldiers, Indigenous volunteers and government officials who helped in the rescue of four children who spent 40 days on their own in the jungle after a plane crash.
President Gustvao Petro described the search that captivated world attention as an example of how Western technologies and traditional knowledge of Indigenous people can work together in the “preservation of life.”
The children, Indigenous siblings, were on a small plane with their mother and two other adults when it crashed in the Amazon on May 1. The three adults died.
Some 70 Indigenous people worked with more than 150 soldiers to look for the children in difficult terrain, using helicopters and GPS devices but also drawing inspiration from traditional knowledge of the jungle. The children, aged 1 to 13, were found June 9 by four volunteers from the Muruy people. The children are still recovering at a military hospital in Bogota.
“The military with its satellites, and the Indigenous people with their potions — including ayahuasca — and invoking the spirits of the jungle, together, found life” Petro said during the ceremony in front of the presidential palace.
After soldiers in camouflage and Indigenous people wearing feathered headdresses received their medals, a Belgian shepherd named Drugia was saluted by the president.
Military officials said the dog was the mother of Wilson, the sniffer dog who became a national hero after helping find the children. Wilson hasn't been seen since May 18, when he raced away from the search party following a scent.
The military has said searchers followed Wilson's pawprints, which led them into the general area where the children were eventually found three weeks later by four of the Indigenous volunteers.
Speaking on the sidelines of the ceremony, Gen. Pedro Sanchez, who commanded the rescue effort, noted soldiers were still hunting for Wilson, but added that at this point there is little hope of finding the dog.
“We are going to remember Wilson forever, as we do every soldier and policeman who has offered their lives to protect Colombia,” Sanchez said.