COLOMBIA — A mother kept herself and her infant son alive for four days in a dense jungle of Colombia after the plane that they were passengers in crashed and caught fire.
María Nelly Murillo Moreno, 19, suffered a broken ankle when the plane that she and her 5-month-old boy were flying in crashed Saturday in the western Colombian department of Chocó.
The mother also suffered burns, according to the Colombian air force, after the plane caught fire on impact. She was burned while taking the baby out as fast as she could to save his life.
Col. Rodrigo Zapata of the Colombian air force told CNN the plane crashed at 1 p.m. Saturday, 15 minutes after takeoff from Nuquí Airport in Chocó. It was bound for Quibdó, a city in the same department. It should have been a 30-minute flight.
The pilot, identified as Carlos Mario Ceballos, died in the crash. An air force search-and-rescue team found his body and the wreckage Sunday morning. The crash is under investigation.
“It’s a case that caught our attention from the beginning,” Zapata said. “First of all, it was amazing that even though the cockpit was destroyed, the cabin area sustained very little damage, which explains part of the reason why mother and son survived.”
Murillo left traces to help rescuers find them, including the baby’s birth certificate, her cell phone, a diaper bag and the pilot’s wallet.
According to Zapata, loud speakers fitted to the bottom of search helicopters helped in the hunt for the pair. The mother heard the speakers and returned to an area near the crash, where rescuers ultimately found her and her son Wednesday.
The air force colonel also said the infant was still breastfeeding and the mother drank coconut water to remain hydrated. When they were rescued, the baby was remarkably in good shape: He only had an irritated bottom because the mother had run out of diapers.
A helicopter flew the two to a hospital in Quibdó. They were scheduled to be transferred Thursday evening to a bigger hospital in Medellín.
“I have a lot of respect for this mother,” Zapata said. “First of all, she realized she had to get out of the plane with her son right away and managed to open the cabin door in spite of the fact that she had an ankle fracture. She went to great lengths to protect her baby from injury, even suffering multiple burns as she took him out of the burning aircraft.”
The air force colonel said the mother used the little food she had in the baby’s diaper bag wisely.
“She survived because she never gave up,” he said. “She’s a very brave woman and a role model.”