When a small plane carrying a mother and her children went down in a remote part of the Amazon, the odds of their survival looked bleaker as the days went by. How could they be found?
H ernando Murcia was the kind of pilot who flew routes others wouldn’t dare. He worked for Avianline Charters, one of the air taxi companies that shuttle people across Colombia’s Amazon region, an expanse of rainforest roughly the size of California. The forest is dark, dense and often treacherous. There are no roads, much less commercial airports, and the meandering rivers teem with predators, including piranhas and anacondas. Violent rebel groups and drug smugglers hide out in the region.
On 1 May 2023, Murcia agreed to pilot a flight from the southern Amazon town of Araracuara to San José del Guaviare, a population centre connected to Colombia’s road network. He was supposed to be carrying representatives of Yauto, a company brokering carbon credits between Indigenous populations and multinational firms, but sometime before takeoff, members of the Colombian military stationed in Araracuara approached Murcia. They told him that there was a change of plans: he needed to evacuate an Indigenous family.
As the family hurried to the rear of the plane, a blue and white Cessna, a local Indigenous leader named Hermán Mendoza clambered up front next to Murcia; he said that he was there to ensure the other passengers arrived at their destination safely. Murcia added everyone’s names to the flight manifest, radioed the information with the plane’s registration number, HK2803, to Colombian air traffic control, then took off.