Colombian authorities say they found a rebel-held soldier in the jungle Monday, a day after he fled for his life and became lost during a confrontation between his captors and government troops conducting a surprise hostage rescue.
Lt. Col. William Donato, 41, was found in good health after taking refuge among trees more than 260 feet (80 meters) tall, Gen. Freddy Padilla said.
Donato, along with two high-ranking police officers and an army sergeant, were all kidnapped in 1998, and were among the longest-held rebel captives.
"I never lost faith that God was going to intercede on his behalf," Donato's mother, Carmenza Gomez, said in a telephone interview. "I was sure he would come back. ... Imagine the happiness."
Donato, and the others rescued Sunday during a confrontation between the military and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, were expected to arrive in the Colombian capital of Bogota later Monday.
Three of them still had 13-foot-long (4-meter-long) chains hanging around their necks because the military did not have the equipment needed to cut them, Padilla said.
Former hostages said that rebels often wrap chains around their captives' necks to keep them together and prevent them from running away.
Two of those rescued, including Gen. Luis Mendieta, were captured by FARC guerrillas during a November 1998 siege of the eastern provincial capital of Mitu. Mendieta was the highest- ranking member of the Colombian police and troops under FARC control. Sunday was his 53rd birthday.
Another two, including Donato, were captured in August 1998 during a rebel attack on an anti-drug outpost in the southern jungle town of Miraflores.
The military rescue operation, which took six months to plan, is the first since soldiers posing as members of a humanitarian mission freed former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three U.S. contractors and 11 police and military officials held by the FARC in July 2008.
Sunday's surprise hostage rescue did not involve help from the U.S., the military said.