Forty days after their plane crashed into the Colombian Amazon jungle, four Indigenous children have been rescued – found malnourished, covered in insect bites, but alive.

The siblings from the Huioto Indigenous community – aged 13, nine, four and 11-months – survived one of the most uninhabitable parts of the country in a remarkable feat of resilience against heavy storms, predatory animals, and armed groups.

None of the children suffered serious harm, with the youngest surviving his first birthday in the jungle. They have been dubbed Columbian “miracle” children.

The education from their grandmother may have been vital to their survival, John Moreno, an Indigenous leader from nearby Vaupes, said.

Here is a selection of survival stories that grabbed the headlines because it involved children triumphing against the odds.

The ‘real Lord of the Flies’

In 1965, a group of six school boys were marooned on a rocky island south of Tonga in the Pacific Ocean for more than a year.

Bored of school, they decided to take a fishing boat out one day. They packed two sacks of bananas, a few coconuts, an old knife and a small gas burner. But after falling asleep, the boys woke up to a windy storm and water crashing down over their heads. They drifted for eight days with no food, surviving on rainwater collected in hollowed-out coconut shells, until they drifted upon small island ‘Ata on the horizon.

Sione Filipe Totau, known as Mano, was one of six Tongan youths shipwrecked on Ata Island for 15 months in the mid 1960s.
Sione Filipe Totau, known as Mano, was one of six Tongan youths shipwrecked on Ata Island for 15 months in the mid 1960s. Photograph: David Kelly/The Guardian

By the time their rescuers arrived 15 months later, the boys – aged between 13 and 16 – had set up a commune with a food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to collect rainwater, chicken pens and a permanent fire. They agreed to work in pairs according to a timetable of garden, kitchen and guard duties, and survived on fish, coconuts, tame birds and eggs.

While for many, the story sounds like a Boys’ Own Adventure tale come to life, for Sione Filipe Totau, one of the six boys marooned, the memories of the months spent on the island are far more harrowing.

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“We [were] not happy where we [were],” Totau, known as Mano, told the Guardian in 2020. “If you were on a place, you don’t know where it is, and also you did not see any part of your family, I don’t think you’d be happy to be there … you won’t be happy until you see your family.”

Thai cave rescue that gripped the world

The world held its breath for 18 days when 12 young footballers from Thailand were trapped inside a flooded cave with their coach in 2018.

The Wild Boars football team – whose players aged between 11 and 17 – survived on an elevated rock four kilometres from the cave mouth, with hardly any food but sustained by meditation led by the 25-year-old coach, Ekaphol Chantawong, a former monk. And by hopes of rescue.

A video grab from the Thai Navy Seals shows some of the Wild Boars football team in a section of Tham Luang cave in Thailand.
A video grab from the Thai Navy Seals shows some of the Wild Boars football team in a section of Tham Luang cave in Thailand. Photograph: Thai Navy SEALs/Getty Images

It took nine days for divers to locate the teenage boys inside the six-mile Tham Luang cave in the Doi Nang Non mountain range.

It took another nine days for the entire team to make it out alive and into the bright glare of daylight and the awaiting cameras to tell a story that inspired multiple films.

The three-day rescue effort involved 18 divers. Two rescuers died while trying to save the group. The rescue effort involved performing medical checks and administering anaesthetic to each child, while others guided them to safety through miles of flooded tunnel.

Alone in a Japanese woodland, with bears

After misbehaving on a trip, seven-year-old Yamato Tanooka was left on the side of the road in a Japanese forest by his parents, with the intention it would be a brief period of punishment.

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However, thinking he was abandoned for good, the boy ventured off, and ended up spending nearly a week in mountain woodland populated by brown bears.

He was found after six days by three soldiers seeking shelter from the rain, who entered a hut to find Yamato curled up on a mattress, five kilometres from the roadside where he had been left.

Yamato Tanooka, the Japanese boy who survived for a week in bear-infested mountain woodlands of Hokkaido.
Yamato Tanooka, the Japanese boy who survived for a week in bear-infested mountain woodlands of Hokkaido. Photograph: None

The boy had managed to get inside a self-defence force training compound in Hokkaido, either by climbing over the fence, or going through the bush on either side, and found a hut that by chance had been left unlocked.

Wearing just a t-shirt and tracksuit pants, at night Yamato squeezed between two mattresses to stay warm. He told the soldiers who found him that he had not eaten for almost a week, though he did appear to have access to water.

The doctor who assessed him after his ordeal in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, said: “He was incredibly calm considering he had been missing for seven days. He didn’t panic at all.”

Ken Noguchi, a mountaineer who has climbed Mount Everest, tweeted: “If he survived by himself, it’s a miracle.”

Toddlers trapped in outback Australia

In December 2022, a five-year-old girl was credited with an “absolute miracle” feat of survival, saving the lives of her two brothers – aged one and two – by helping them after they were trapped in the wreckage of a car crash that killed their parents in remote Western Australia.

Trapped inside an upturned Land Rover, the young girl freed the one-year-old brother from his seatbelt. But the two-year-old brother stayed trapped in his seat for more than two days after the accident. The three waited beside their dead parents for 55 hours in 30-degree heat until family friends found them by the remote road.

They were badly dehydrated and still inside the car when help arrived.

The crash scene in West Australia where three young children survived for days in scorching heat.
The crash scene in West Australia where three young children survived for days in scorching heat. Photograph: Nine News

Michael Read, a cousin of the father who died, said it was difficult to imagine what the children would have been going through inside that vehicle. He described the five-year-old girl as a “bright kid, smart, intelligent, [who] absolutely loves cooking and playdough”.


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