Indigenous tribesmen in the world's largest jungle have found at least nine survivors after a Brazilian military transport plane crash-landed on a river deep in the Amazon, the air force said Friday.
One person on the flight that went down on Thursday in far northwestern Brazil was found trapped in the plane and is presumed dead, while another apparently went searching for help and is missing, the statement said.
Members of the Matis, a tiny tribe of some 300 people first contacted by modern Brazilian officials in the 1970s, discovered the plane and its crew and passengers "in the middle of the Amazon jungle" between the Matis village of Aurelio and another tribe's village, the air force said in a statement.
The air force said the C-98 Caravan, a single-propeller Cessna transport plane, lost radio contact Thursday as it was flying from Cruzeiro do Sul, in northwestern Acre state, to the Amazonas town of Tabatinga, where the borders of Brazil, Colombia and Brazil come together.
The plane apparently crash-landed on the Itui river, a small tributary of the Amazon near the Peruvian border, and it was the pluck of the pilot who helped save the lives of his passengers, according to a survivor.
"We are happy to be alive," he told a local official, according to news website UOL.
"The engine of the plane stopped, and we panicked, but the pilot managed to land the aircraft on the river."
The air force said in a statement that the survivors were being transported back to Cruzeiro do Sul by military aircraft, and that "they are doing well."
Brazil's Globo news network said a helicopter carrying survivors arrived in Cruzeiro do Sul and that four of them were taken to hospital. The extent of their injuries, if any, was not immediately clear.
Four crew members and seven passengers -- two women and five men, all health ministry employees -- were aboard the plane when it went down.
The passengers belonged to a health team that included municipal workers undertaking an immunization campaign in indigenous communities, a spokesman for the National Health Foundation (FUNASA) in Cruzeiro do Sul told AFP.
The missing person was a member of the military crew who went searching for help, a FUNASA spokesman told AFP on Friday.
Aviation expert Gustavo Cunha Mello told Globo that the C-98 Caravan is a slow-flying aircraft built in a way that would likely allow passengers and crew to survive if there was an emergency landing.
Eight aircraft had been scouring the rainforest, but the improbable rescue in one of the world's most remote regions is credited to the Matis.
They "heard a different sound while hunting in the dense jungle," Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) said in a statement on its website.
"In seeking the source of the noises they found the Brazilian Air Force aircraft" in a riverbed about a two-hour walk from their village, it added.
They used a radio to contact FUNAI officials, who gave the military the exact coordinates of the village.
The region is home to several isolated tribes, including some which have never had physical contact with the outside world.
Just days before the plane crash, according to indigenous rights protection group Survival International, FUNAI announced it would launch an expedition in November to search for uncontacted tribes in the Javari valley, where the Matis live.
"FUNAI thinks that more uncontacted indigenous groups could be living in this densely forested area than anywhere else in Brazil," Survival International said in a report.
Last year, FUNAI released dramatic images of a tribe -- living a few hundred kilometers south of Thursday's plane crash site -- believed never to have had contact with the outside world.
Brazil's indigenous population was decimated by the arrival of Portuguese settlers in the 16th century.
According to FUNAI, their number has plunged from as many as 10 million to just 460,000 today -- a tiny fraction of the 190 million people who now live in the country.
Source: AFP Global Edition