World Incidents

Argentina: five-year-old boy rescued after 22 hours lost in desert

A five-year-old boy who was lost for 22 hours in an Argentinian mountain wilderness inhabited by dangerous snakes, cougars and scorpions has been reunited with his family.

Benjamín Sánchez lost sight of his mother while playing hide-and-seek on a visit to El Salado, a semi-desert region of the province of San Juan in western Argentina.

“My mother was chasing me and I started to run,” he told the Clarín newspaper after his rescue. “I could hear her at first but then I got lost. I leaned on a rock. I started to call her but she couldn’t hear me.”

He quickly got lost in the undergrowth, said his mother Andrea Quiroga, 44.

“It was so quiet I could hear him cry but I couldn’t see him any more,” Quiroga said later.

In the end, Benjamín walked for almost a full day, covering 21km (13 miles) of hills, forests, desert and dangerous swamps.

He was dressed in sneakers, pants and a T-shirt, ideal for an afternoon out in Argentina’s summer, but not for a semi-arid desert where the temperatures range from 30C during the day to 0C at night (86 to 32F).

Benjamín found water from a stream and tried to nibble on some plants. “I got cold, I got scared,” he said afterwards.

His disappearance dominated the news in Argentina. Prayer groups were set up in the province of San Juan.

Benjamín’s mother, a doctor, refused to leave the site of his disappearance until he was found. Drones, a helicopter, and 300 volunteers including horse and motorbike riders participated in the search.

“I was desperate. I started thinking the worst,” said Quiroga afterwards.Jubilant rescuers finally found the boy lying amid the bushes in a swampy area after a 22-hour search.

Benjamín was spotted at about 4pm Monday by Alberto Ontiveros, who led a team of 15 motorbikes.“We followed the tracks of his sneakers,” said Ontiveros. “When I saw him I didn’t even stop, I just turned straight around to alert the helicopter. The important thing was getting him out of there at once.”

The first person to reach him was horse rider Juan Reynoso, who rode his mount through the deep mud to offer Benjamín water. “It’s a swamp with a lot of mud, difficult to cross and animals often get stuck there,” Reynoso said.

After alerting the helicopter, Ontiveros rode back and found Benjamín. “He was all right – tired and a little dirty. He was thirsty and had gotten scared by the sound of the motorbikes.”

Benjamín was taken by helicopter to the hospital in the city of San Juan where he was reunited with his mother.

“I was so happy to see my mother. I missed everybody,” Benjamín said after
his rescue.

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