(CNN) — Eating cassava flour helped save the lives of four children who were found alive in the Amazon jungle more than a month after their plane crashed, according to an official with Colombia’s military special forces.
The children ate “three kilograms (six pounds) of flour,” a coarse cassava flour commonly used by indigenous tribes in the Amazon region, spokesman Pedro Arnulfo Sánchez Suárez said.
“Days after the incident, they ate the fariña they had brought there… but (eventually) they ran out of food and decided to find a place where they could survive,” Suárez said.
“They were malnourished but fully conscious and lucid when we found them,” he added.
“Their indigenous origins gave them some immunity to jungle diseases, and knowing the jungle itself – knowing what to eat and what not to eat – as well as finding water kept them alive, which It wouldn’t have been possible (if) they weren’t used to that kind of hostile environment.”
The four children – Lesly Jacobombaire Mucutuy, 13, Soleiny Jacobombaire Mucutuy, 9, Tien Ranoque Mucutuy, 4, and baby Cristin Ranoque Mucutuy – are currently hospitalized in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, after being flown there on Saturday Colombian Air Force ambulance, authorities said.
According to medical reports they are dehydrated and still “can’t eat”, but they are fine and out of danger. “What is needed now is to stabilize them,” Colombian Defense Minister Iván Velásquez told reporters gathered outside the hospital.
The boys’ mother, Magdalena Mucutuy Valencia, died in the plane crash on May 1, leaving them alone and abandoned in the Amazon jungle. Pilot Hernando Murcia Morales and Yarupari indigenous leader Herman Mendoza Hernández also died in the crash.
The disappearance of the children triggered a large army-led search operation involving more than 100 Colombian Special Forces soldiers and more than 70 indigenous scouts.
Eventually, all four were found in an area cleared of trees.
The children told authorities they found a dog, a Belgian shepherd named Wilson, who belonged to the special forces. The dog disappeared on May 18, according to Suárez. “The kids told us they spent three or four days with Wilson and found him quite thin,” he added.
Hopes that the babies would survive dwindled as the weeks passed.
Their relatives said they spent “many sleepless nights worried” until they found the children.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who visited the children in hospital on Saturday, welcomed their return, saying their survival “will be remembered in history”.
“They are children of the jungle and now they are children of Colombia,” Petro said.
With background reporting by CNN’s Caitlin Hu, Hira Humayun, Karol Suarez and Chris Lau.