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Rescue From Colombia: Americans Freed

Aired July 2, 2008 - 00:00   ET


KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And so what the Colombian generals have told us is that they started radio deception. They started radio intercept and, in fact, ordered guerrilla units in the jungle to move the hostages so that they could bring them all together in one place.
And so on the order of Colombian generals posing as guerrilla commanders, the guerrilla units on the ground marched their hostages, their groups of hostages, more than 100 miles towards the jungle.

Now guerrillas (INAUDIBLE) through the kind of jungle that is, that operation could have taken between two and three weeks to move the hostages into the place where they were at this morning. And then this morning in the final part of the operation, what the Colombian generals told us is that they dropped in in a helicopter marked white and orange.

Those -- that's the color of the helicopters that have been used in previous hostage handovers. They dropped into a jungle clearing in that helicopter, and then the three groups of hostages, the 15 hostages total, were loaded on board that helicopter as 60 heavily armed guerrillas watched on.

There were 60 members of the Colombian military on that helicopters. Those helicopters would hold that many people. They'd hold possibly 10 or 15 members of the military on board that helicopter, plus the 15 hostages.

Even, in fact, two of the guerrillas got on board that helicopter. And once the helicopter took off, then the military members on board the helicopter then disarmed them from their rifles.

But in a sense what we're talking about here is over the course of more than a month, the Colombian military sends out deceptive orders to the guerrillas to march their hostages...

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: It's incredible.

PENHAUL: ... 100 miles through the jungle, and then they simply drop into a jungle clearing. And in the space of 20 minutes, load those 15 hostages on board and as 60 guerrillas on the ground watch on, wondering what's happened, the helicopter takes off.

COOPER: Remarkable.

Karl Penhaul, we're told Ingrid Betancourt is speaking right now live as we're watching the San Antonio airfield as well waiting for that plane to land.

Let's listen in to Ingrid Betancourt, released just today.


INGRID BETANCOURT, FORMER COLOMBIAN HOSTAGE (through translator): And we got on those airplane. They had these jackets for us.

NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): Do you remember the color of the airplane?

BETANCOURT (through translator): White.

SARKOZY (through translator): Did you see if there were any emblems?

BETANCOURT (through translator): Of course, Mr. President. We have become, after all these years with the guerrilla, we have become experts in identifying who is before us. That's why I said it was very strange to me. I said, well, what is this? A helicopter, a white helicopter. Red Cross? No. France? No. There was no flag, there was nothing. There was no sign anywhere.

We got on. We were very unhappy. I remember that the -- the young man who had handcuffed me -- he had done it -- he had really -- he had hurt me. And I have my hand that's hurt, and I was very unhappy and irritated because I felt that once again I had been humiliated and treated me badly.

It's the first I do -- when I sat down where I was allowed and I was supposed to sit, the first thing that I tried to do was figure out how I could let go -- free my hand, and I knew that they were going to -- I was going to get in trouble. I had no idea what they were going to do to me, but I knew, I'm going to take off this equipment because I had it on my back so I could not lean back.

And I was in the midst of that. The helicopter took off. I was in my unhappiness, looking at my peers, and the discomfort of everybody in a bad mood, everybody so humiliated, and suddenly I look, and I look at Gapas(ph) on the floor, and I thought, did he faint? What happened?

No. I don't know how they did it, Mr. President, but I think it was in less than five minutes, they took off his clothes. I saw him with his -- with some -- with a bandana around his eyes, and he was tied. And the next thing was hearing the major who was operating the operation, he said, "We are the national military. You are free."

SARKOZY (through translator): Did you try to look for Cesar?

BETANCOURT (through translator): No, I didn't see him. I know that there was some blood on my pants that's why I changed it later. I don't know anything else. Later I was very afraid that the helicopter would fall. I prayed a lot because there are times -- there are times when one has lived a series of difficult moments.


COOPER: Ingrid Betancourt speaking about her ordeal and her moment of happiness. We watch on the left side of the screen what we believe is the aircraft approaching the field in San Antonio, Texas.

Kelly Field at Lackland Air Force Base. Three Americans on board. We're joined on the phone by George Gonsalves, father of Marc Gonsalves, one of the men on board that flight right now.

George, as you see the twinkling lights of this plane, as I assume you do on the television screen, what are you thinking?

GEORGE GONSALVES, FATHER OF FREED HOSTAGE: I'm thinking they're on here. And I just can't wait to see him.

COOPER: For five years now, you have waited for this moment. What -- did you -- were there days you thought this might not happen, that he might not come back?

GONSALVES: You know, it's been -- it's a bit of a roller coaster ride. But, you know, I don't think I ever gave up hope. There was things along this -- the road that gave me encouragement, and I was certainly always hopeful that this day would happen, and now it's happening. And it seems like a miracle, but it's happening.

COOPER: How concerned are you about your son's health? I know one person who escaped from the FARC recently told you -- told authorities that maybe your son had hepatitis.

GONSALVES: That's correct. I did hear that last year. And I certainly like to know how he's doing, and I'm sure we're going to get an answer to that very shortly. He'll be -- you know, he'll be examined, and I'm sure Marc will be examined, and so will Keith and Tom. And I know Tom -- he has some issues as well.

So I'm kind of concerned about both of them. And Keith, I'm assuming he's in good health because I didn't hear anything negative about him.

COOPER: How much have you seen of him in the last five years? I mean how many proof of life videos were there?

GONSALVES: Well, there was -- you know, there's only been actually two. The first one back in 2003 and then this year, (INAUDIBLE), and that's really all there's been. There's been nothing else. There's certainly been no communication between me and my son. I haven't been able to talk to him. He hasn't been able to talk to me.

So other than those proof of life, that's all we've been hanging to.

COOPER: Were you able to leave radio broadcasts for him? I know many hostage families have left, I believe...

GONSALVES: Yes. COOPER: ... it's on Sunday nights in Colombia, they actually play recorded messages from family members and hostages can sometimes tune in and actually hear their loved ones talking to them.

GONSALVES: Yes, that's correct. We were told by some of the hostages that either escaped or were freed that that was true, that they were given the opportunity to listen to radio messages from their loved ones, and yes, we did leave messages, and I have to assume that he got those messages.

You know, again, I don't really have any way of knowing other than what I was told. They did have an opportunity to listen to the radio.

COOPER: When you leave a message like that, what do you say in something like that?

GONSALVES: You know, actually, the only thing you could say is, you know, kind of like what you did today or kind of like what's going on, some special event, you know, a wedding, anniversary, somebody graduating, you know...

COOPER: Just trying to tell them about what life is like?

GONSALVES: Yes, yes, try to give them an idea of what's going on back here and certainly let them know that, you know, we're thinking about them and let them know that we love them and we haven't certainly forgotten and just try to give them a little information as to what we're doing back here.

COOPER: It's got to be remarkable -- I'm just thinking right now about sitting on that aircraft that we see twinkling -- those twinkling lights in the sky. You know your son has been kept in a jungle away from cities for five years now. Just to see the lights of San Antonio spread out beneath him must be so strange.

GONSALVES: Must be. Must be. I can't imagine what's going through his mind right now, I mean, to look down, and you're right, and you see your country and you see your people there, it's like, God, that's got to be some kind of relief, huh?

COOPER: I know you told us in the last hour, but for folks who weren't tuned in then, you were actually mowing your lawn when you got the news.

GONSALVES: Yes. That's a funny story. But that's what was happening. I was out there cutting my grass, and one of my neighbors came out very excited, you know, waving their hands up in the air and everything. And I got to shut the thing off. I didn't know what was happening. And she told me, "Did you hear?" And I said, "Hear what?" She says they're freed. I said, "Who's freed?"

She says, "Marc is freed." I said, "Marc is freed?" And then she goes, "Yes, it's on the news. It's on the news. It's on CNN. It's on the news." So we go running into the house, and lo and behold, about three or four minutes after that, we're watching it, and there they are, the three guys' pictures. And I couldn't believe it, I just couldn't believe it. There is no expression I could say how I felt at that moment.

COOPER: I talked to Roy Hallums. He's a former contractor who worked in Iraq and was kidnapped for, I believe, it was 311 days. And he was saying one of the things is that, when you come back, you know, you just got to give -- I was asking him what kind of advice he would give to you and other family members.

And he said, yes, you've just got to give your loved one time. You've got to give them time to kind of re-adjust because all of a sudden they've been living at the bottom end of a funnel, this little light, and all of a sudden they're kind of opened up and, you know, everything's in front of them.

It's got to be -- are you concerned about the readjustment?

GONSALVES: Well, you know, when I met with Jonathan Chow last year, you know, that was one of the questions I had asked them, because -- Jonathan Chow is the police officer that escaped from the FARC. He wasn't released. He wasn't part of the main spot. He actually escaped.

And in talking to him, you know, I asked him, I said, gees, what can I expect here? You know, what's he going to be like? And that's basically what he told me. He says, you know, let him go on with his life. You know it was a bad point, but it's something that he'll overcome, and hence he'll adjust.

And I -- you know, and listening to that, it was encouraging because that's a man that was -- oh, my gosh, I think he was held captive almost eight years.


GONSALVES: So that was encouraging.

COOPER: How much did you know about what was going on over the years in terms of efforts? I mean that -- you know, there were hopes raised and then hopes dashed and international groups going, and then you'd hear the French are involved and then Hugo Chavez was involved.

I mean did you follow every minute detail day after day?

GONSALVES: Yes. Yes. Yes. That's what we did. You know, we have a lot of good friends out there. There's a lot of good folks out there. We have friends in, you know, France and Spain and Portugal and Switzerland.

A lot of good folks out there. And you know, we weren't alone. And, you know, when President Chavez, you know, was asked to take the helm there for the mediation process, you know, he came, and he was successful. I mean he did what he said he was going to do.

And, you know, it was encouraging. It was very encouraging because, you know, we saw the proof of life. We saw hostages being released. So, you know, it was very encouraging at that point, very. And unfortunately, things broke apart, and things continued to break apart, and the FARC secretariat folks either, you know, dying off of natural causes or, you know, being killed, but it seems to be breaking apart.

And unfortunately, the new gentleman that took command, he has really responded very much in the media certainly over the last couple months, anyway. No one's heard from him so that's scary. That's real scary.

COOPER: George, I want you to stand by, if you could, as we watch the plane carrying your son.

I want to bring in Matthew Bristow who is a stringer for the "Christian Science Monitor." He spoke to Keith Stansell's fiancee. He joins me now by phone from Bogota.

Matthew, thanks for being with us. Keith Stansell has two children who he has never even seen. His wife was -- his fiancee was pregnant or his girlfriend was pregnant at the time he was taken hostage, isn't that correct?

MATTHEW BRISTOW, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Exactly, yes. She was -- she's called Patricia Medina. She was four months pregnant when his plane went down and he was kidnapped.

COOPER: She's Colombian.

BRISTOW: She's Colombian, yes. She's a flight attendant.

COOPER: Is she in Colombia tonight?

BRISTOW: She's in Colombia (INAUDIBLE), not in Bogota. She's coming back -- when I spoke to her -- I spoke to her father and mother earlier, and she's going to the states tomorrow morning.

COOPER: How is she doing?

BRISTOW: She's very well. She's ecstatic. I spoke to her earlier, and I could hear the kids, you know, shouting joyfully in the background.

COOPER: Two 5-year-old boys?

BRISTOW: Yes, exactly. And she hasn't spoken to Keith. But her sister did. Her sister called Keith. It was a really bad line on her cell phone and he thought he was talking to Patricia. And so he was saying, you know, I love you. But they had a very brief conversation.

COOPER: And he actually -- they were girlfriend and boyfriend when he was kidnapped. But he actually proposed to her through an intermediary. What happened?

BRISTOW: Well, that was in -- on March the 3rd this year. The FARC released some other hostages. One of them was a Colombian senator, and Keith gave this guy a message and saying if you see Patricia, please pass on this message, and the message was, you know, will you be my wife?

And she went to the airport hoping to hear news of Keith. And the senator's son pointed her out and said that's her. That's Patricia. And he went to her and he gave her a rose and said, I've got a very special message for you from Keith. He wants to know if you will be his wife.

And then she said -- you know, she said yes. And then she went on a program called -- there's a program for -- in Colombia for families of kidnapped victims. It's called Voices of Kidnapping. And you can send messages over the radio to relatives who are kidnapped.

And so she went on the radio to tell him yes.

BRISTOW: And Matthew, we are watching Kelly Field at Lackland Air Force Base where the plane carrying Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell is about to touch down, a moment that so many people have worked for so long to see, no doubt, many of them maybe believed it never would happen, but it is happening now.

You see the lights of San Antonio stretched out beneath the aircraft as it heads toward the runway.

We're also on the phone -- it's George Gonsalves, father of Marc.

George, who are you watching this with? Do you have other family members around?

GONSALVES: Well, just my wife is here right now. A lot of family members were here earlier. They've since left. And just my wife and I right now. In fact, we're getting ready to pack so that we can get on the plane and go visit in Texas tomorrow morning.

COOPER: You're going to leave tomorrow morning?


COOPER: Do you know -- do you have any idea the first thing you're going to say to him?

GONSALVES: Boy. What are my first words going to be? You know I can tell you what I'm going to say, but I don't know what I'm going to say. It's going to be like that because when I see him, I don't know how I'm going to react.

I just hope I don't, you know, crack up too much here. I mean, I could break down a little bit. I'm hoping that doesn't happen. I really miss him, you know?

COOPER: Well, I think it would be OK if you did.

GONSALVES: Well, I just don't want to do that. I mean I really missed him. I really like to say, how I -- you know, how I have missed him and just hope I'm able to get that out.

COOPER: Did he love the work that he was doing? GONSALVES: You know, he did something very similar to this in (INAUDIBLE) for eight years. He wanted to continue to do something, you know, to benefit the country and doing, you know, drug surveillance was, I guess, his way of doing that. So he liked doing what he did.

COOPER: And we're watching the plane just about to touch down.


COOPER: And it looks like they are home.


COOPER: To think of all they have seen and all they have been through in these five plus years, Thomas Howes, Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, three Americans who, by all accounts, have held up remarkably well who, despite whatever medical problems they may have, who seem to look relatively healthy, they have their weight, they don't seem to have lost a tremendous amount.

How does Marc look to you?

GONSALVES: He's -- you know, the last time I saw the proof of life, he was thin.

COOPER: He was thin?

GONSALVES: Yes, he was thin. All of them look pretty thin to me. They look a little haggard. I mean, I wouldn't say they were in top health. They looked like they lost some serious weight.

COOPER: Well, I mean, five years in a jungle is not an easy thing.


COOPER: I mean, four hours in a jungle is not an easy thing.

GONSALVES: No, no. I agree with you.

COOPER: Also on the phone, Matthew Bristow of the "Christian Science Monitor" who spoke with Keith Stansell's fiancee just today who is, obviously, also extremely excited.

What we anticipate Drew Griffin is standing by at the airfield. I'm not sure if he's on the line with us now.

But Drew, what are we expecting? What is the protocol? What's going to happen?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, once they get off of that plane, they'll be put on helicopters, we're told, and flown across town, across San Antonio.

Over here to the helicopter pad right in back of me. This is the helicopter pad for the Brooke Army Medical Center which is where these men will be evaluated, checked out to see what they do have and what, perhaps, they don't have, and where we're also anticipating the families will come tomorrow to meet these people, these relatives.

George, his son, and have that reunion that you've been talking about. But once they get off and get on to a helicopter, it should be about a ten-minute flight over here.

COOPER: Ken Robinson is also standing by watching this.

Ken, your thoughts, I mean, as you see this plane taxiing now on the runway.

KEN ROBINSON, KNOWS RESCUED AMERICANS: I never thought we would successfully see these guys back. It's -- we've been elated all day talking to folks on the phone.

The big thing right now is their mental health. The -- one of the things that they want to do by getting them to Brooke is to help get these guys into a process of assimilation, acceptance of what has happened to them, and get them ready to reintegrate back in with their families.

COOPER: And that is -- I mean, a process where for each person is -- each individual is different.

ROBINSON: It totally is different, and each of them has different experiences that occurred to them while they were in captivity, and then they were brought together. So along with mental health professionals, they'll also get some pretty thorough physicals to make sure that a lot of the things that are endemic to that part of the region of living the life they've lived in a jungle for five years, are identified very quickly as well.

But most importantly, it's going to be helping them just reintegrate from the -- try to prevent the posttraumatic stress of what would be normal for anyone who's gone through this.

COOPER: Matthew Bristow is also on the line from the "Christian Science Monitor," joining us in Bogota.

Matthew, you know, for Americans, this seems to be an American story. They're focusing on three Americans who just returned, thankfully, in San Antonio.

In Colombia, though, there is a lot of pride tonight -- pride in the military, pride in the president, pride in all those who have taken part in this, and, of course, pride in Ingrid Betancourt and the other 11 Colombian hostages who have been freed today.

What kind of an impact is this story having right now in Colombia?

BRISTOW: It's an absolutely -- it's one of the biggest stories for years. Earlier this afternoon lots of cars were making a lot of noise. Some people were hanging flags out of their windows. Everyone's obsessed with it. It's absolutely massive, and a lot of people are absolutely delighted in Bogota.

COOPER: And for a country which has made so much progress in the last few years -- I was down there a few weeks ago on vacation in Bogota. It's a great city. It is a vibrant city. Restaurants are open. People go out. I think many people who haven't been there have this impression of it as, you know, people -- everyone afraid of being kidnapped, but there is such life in Colombia.

This must be a sense -- I mean, is there a sense that the FARC is on its heels?

BRISTOW: A lot of people are now saying that, yes. I mean it suffered some very heavy blows recently. They've lost some key leaders, (INAUDIBLE) further back into the mountains.

This is another -- what happened today is another example of the disarray that they're in.

It's hard to -- I think it's too early to write them off completely. There are still 8,000 of them, according to the government's figures. They still control a lot of territory, but have taken some really heavy hits recently. And a lot of people in Colombia do believe that the tide has turned and that they're now waning.

COOPER: One of their leaders assassinated allegedly by his bodyguard who cut off his hand as evidence so he'd a reward. Another leader killed in a raid along the border with Ecuador.

It was as we watch Air Force C-17 taxi to the ramp, that's Kelly Field, Lackland Air Force Base.

We're also joined on the phone by Roy Hallums, a former contractor, a former hostage in Iraq held for 311 days in Iraq.

Mr. Hallums, as you watch these Americans return home, your thoughts.

ROY HALLUMS, HELD HOSTAGE IN IRAQ: Well, I just -- it reminds me of when I came home. It sort of like you're in a dream that you're actually out of the situation you are in and you're able to be freed again.

COOPER: You talked -- you had told me before you were held, blindfolded, bound for 24 hours a day, basically, and then to suddenly find yourself with opportunities and a whole life ahead of you, I was kept -- keep thinking about being in that plane and seeing San Antonio, the lights twinkling, stretched out beneath me, beneath those men must be overwhelming in a way.

HALLUMS: Well, I'm sure it is for them. I mean, it was for me because when I was -- I was rescued by army special forces, and they took me back to Baghdad flying in a helicopter.

And as you're flying in, it's all surreal. I mean, you're coming in, and you're thinking back to, well, just a few hours ago I was being held, not knowing if I was going to live another, you know, five or ten minutes, and now -- you're right. Your whole world opened up again.

COOPER: Roy, we also have George Gonsalves on the phone, the father of one of these former hostages, Marc. Any advice? I mean everybody is different. Everybody has a unique experience and has to be dealt with differently.

But just any advice you might pass along to family members?

HALLUMS: Well, just that it takes time for -- it took time for me to adjust. I'm sure it will take time for them. I mean, there's a -- military has the joint recovery agency who takes care of hostages that are coming back. And the first people I met when I was rescued were people from this joint recovery agency, and I'm sure they are with them now.

And -- I mean, they'll be giving him advice. And when they get back to their family, just -- they'll be the same person. They'll just be take time to fully adjust to their new life.

COOPER: And what, in those first, you know, what is the screening process? What is the process like when you get back?

HALLUMS: Well, they took me into the -- to see the medical doctors and gave me a physical -- checked me over just to see how I was. And one of the first people I met was a psychiatrist from the Joint Recovery Agency. And they talk to you for a while. And then I was met FBI agents and was debriefed by them about what had happened and who my captors were, and what had happened while I was being held.

COOPER: And how long is that whole process?

HALLUMS: Well, the Joint Recovery Agency actually wanted me to stay with them for about a week of debriefing and, you know, basically working your way back into normal life. But I didn't want to do that. I wanted to come straight home.

COOPER: Sure, I understand that.

HALLUMS: So that's what I did. I'm sure they will recommend to these three men that, you know, they stay with them and be counseled and debriefed for a while. It will be up to the individual person how long they want to do that.

COOPER: Ken Robinson also joining us, National Security terrorism analyst.

Ken, what kind of information might these three men have that would be helpful to authorities? I mean, I guess, they know a lot -- after five years of watching their captors, they know a lot about the FARC.

ROBINSON: The thing that's most valuable is the ordinary. The things that go on day to day. Anything that's routine. Any type of communication... COOPER: Ken, I'm sorry, I just want to interrupt you. I want to bring in George. And George, you just -- if you can help me, if you see Marc, just let us know. We're trying to figure out who's who. That looks like the flight crew coming off the plane, trying to assess the situation, I guess, see where the other vehicle is for these members.

Do you see Marc?


COOPER: OK. I imagine they're still on the aircraft and those are the members of the flight crew. They'll probably going to figure out where the vehicle is in order to take these -- we've been told -- Drew Griffin is also standing by.

Drew, there may be some sort of a press conference?

GRIFFIN: Yes, Anderson, I was actually just running over to see if I could see on the monitor. But yes, we understand a press conference, but not tonight. Tomorrow is what they're telling us here at the hospital, at 3:00 in the afternoon Central Time.

They're going to have some kind of debrief. Whether that will be with the actual -- these freed men themselves or with the doctors who are going to be taking care of them and going through that reintegration process that you've been discussing. We just don't know.

But 3:00 tomorrow afternoon we're going to get more information. And the hospital preparing for those families to be reunited as they come in, I guess, tomorrow.

COOPER: Do we know the protocol of what's happening now?

GRIFFIN: I can only tell you that what I have been told is they get off of that plane. They get on helicopters. And at one point they told me it was going to be three separate helicopters, which I didn't understand at the time.

And then they land behind me here on this helipad. The helipad -- they'll be picked up at a bus, and then just over to the north here is the hospital itself, about a quarter mile away.

So we will get a shot of them landing in the helicopter right behind me, getting off, getting onto a bus and then heading over into the hospital where this treatment can begin for these men.

COOPER: Ken Robinson, I'm sorry to interrupt. You were talking about the most valuable information they may have.

ROBINSON: The most valuable information is the routine stuff. For the FARC to be able to sustain itself, it has to be able to have sanctuary, it has to be able to command and control, communicate. It has logistics. It has routine of things that it does. And that information is very valuable to try to understand how these separate cells within the FARC work and their sources of support, which local areas do they enjoy the most sanctuary in?

So there's an enormous amount of intelligence to be gleaned just from debriefing these guys over on the routines of their day over the last few years and the different terrains that they were in and different things that they observed.

COOPER: At the top of this hour, Ken, Karl Penhaul, who's been listening to a press conference in -- in Colombia with government officials and military officials, have just stunning information, some stunning details that this began one month ago and that the hostage were held in three separate groups, about 100 miles apart.

And that through radio intercepts, basically, Colombian government military officials were giving orders to guerrilla groups and those guerrilla groups thought they were FARCs. So the fact that FARC is so, I guess, discombobulated that they don't have the abilities, apparently, to really communicate effectively with their top leadership.

ROBINSON: Right. It's -- well, the reason they do is when they talk, they die. With there on the air, there -- you know, for five years since these guys crashed, there's been planes up in the air trying to intercept communications from a FARC to find out where they were located. It's been a national priority both of the government of Colombia and United States. And they know every time they break squelch on the hand set, they're identifying their location because communications is not passive.

It's active. So they field it with courier a lot of times. And so imitative deception using ways to manipulate and shape them is a really brilliant strategy simply because of they have to maintain covert communications just to be able to not be targeted.

COOPER: And the fact that, I mean, this thing could have could have gone on for a month, and Karl estimated it could take two to three weeks in that kind of terrain to move these hostages all to one central point.

And it's going to come out in the wash probably in the next week but this wasn't the first time. I mean, the United States and the government of Colombia several times have been prepared to try to rescue these guys. This was the time that was most likely for success in the eyes of the Colombian government themselves because their deception enabled them to shape them into a place that they can exploit and their confidence was high that they'd be able to hold the ruse without have bloodshed. Really remarkable on the part of the government of Colombia.

COOPER: They had said that they anticipated being on the ground with the FARC and the hostages for about eight minutes. They ended up being on the ground for 22 minutes. I think one of the generals described as the longest 22 minutes of his life. We're seeing the rear of the aircraft as the air force plane opening up. We're not sure if the former hostages, I should say, these three Americans returning, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell will be coming out through that hatch or through the other. As we said and watch again, there are going to be -- this is at Kelly field at Lackland Air Force Base. We're watching along with Roy Hallums, a former contractor from Iraq, held hostage for 311 days as well as George Gonzalves, the father of Marc, who was using his landmower today when a neighbor came by and told him remarkable news, which of course he said he almost couldn't believe.

George, it's got to be kind of hard waiting, just watching this for you.

GONZALVES: A lot of anxiety right here. I'm really looking forward to seeing him come out of this plane.

COOPER: Do you know -- you're flying out in the morning. Do you know what time you're going to get there around? Or when do you think the first that you would be able to actually see him?

GONZALVES: I think well, actually I think we touchdown in somewhere around 4:00.

COOPER: It looks like they're coming.

GONZALVES: Yes. That looks like Tom right there.

COOPER: That looks to me like Keith also there on the right just taking off. If you see Marc, let us know.

GONZALVES: That's Marc right on the end there.

COOPER: On the end?

GONZALVES: Yes, that looks like him.

COOPER: Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell. Is that Marc?

GONZALVES: No. I don't think that's him, no.

COOPER: We definitely saw Keith Stansell. His military haircut is quite distinctive. So, we're also joined by Amanda Howes, the niece of Thomas Howes -- Amanda.

GONZALVES: I think that's him right there.

COOPER: Right there?

GONZALVES: Yes, getting on that helicopter.

COOPER: Amanda, welcome. Did you see Thomas?


COOPER: I'm pretty sure he was there. I didn't see him either. But how are you doing? How's this day been for you?

HOWES: We are doing so great. We are so overjoyed. This whole process, and today is a great day for us. It redefines the word "miracle," it really does.

COOPER: I mean, I can't imagine five years what you have been through. Did you expect this day to come? Were there days that you thought that maybe this day might not come?

HOWES: It was pure hope for my family and I. Honestly, I mean, we always had that glimmer of hope in the back of our minds. We always have that, you know, that sadness that we would hope that they came, you know, with hope that they came home. But you know, we were never that sure.

COOPER: How much were you in contact with the other families, with George Gonsalves and the other families?

HOWES: We did speak with the Gonsalves family in Connecticut a couple times. But, I mean, it was limited contact, you know, between the three families. His wife was heavily involved. Our family lives off the Cape in Massachusetts. And you know, we just waited to hear from agency, and newspaper clippings and news articles and stuff like that nature, through the Internet, you know.

COOPER: Has your family been told what happens now? I mean, do you know what happens now?

HOWES: We do not know. We're waiting word. I've been in contact with the Brooke Medical Center. And we are planning, you know, a trip down there and hopefully we'll be able to speak with him either tonight or in the morning.

COOPER: That is clearly Keith Stansell there on the right in the air force suit. Getting onto the helicopter. Obviously, Amanda, they're moving very fast. I'm not sure if they're all three now on that helicopter. We've also -- I'm sorry, go ahead, Amanda.

HOWES: I think I saw him in an earlier clip. After Keith shook hands with one of the Air Force members. They did move quite fast, though.

COOPER: Yes. It's hard to tell. That is definitely Keith there shaking hands. We have been told --

HOWES: It looks like Keith's towards the front.

COOPER: I'm sorry?

HOWES: Maybe --

COOPER: George Gonzalves, George, did you see Marc any more in any of those shots?

GONZALVES: Geez, you know, it's hard to tell, they're moving pretty quick there. The individual I thought was Marc, it's hard to tell.

COOPER: Yes. It looks like there's two helicopters moving out. They're going to be flying to Brooke Army Medical Center where the process of checkups will begin. No doubt they've had some sort of medical attention on board the flight from Bogota. But obviously much more extensive procedures will be done now, interviews and the like. Ken Robinson joining us.

Obviously, Ken, I guess the medical angle is the most important first off.

ROBINSON: It's really important for them to first to do a quick assessment to make sure that there are no abnormalities that they have physically that are just not observable. Then once they do that, they really want to get into their heads and give them the opportunity to talk, get them an opportunity to really wrap their hands around their experience over the last five years and then start the process of reintegration.

COOPER: Drew Griffin is standing by at Brooke Army Medical Center where those choppers are headed.

Drew, do you have any information -- I assume they're all on board those choppers? It was hard for us to see.

GRIFFIN: Yes, hard for us to see. We were told, Anderson, it would be a couple helicopters that would take them over there, and that's the bus going out to the helipad that we were told will bring them over to the Medical Center. So it looks like things here are getting ready for these men to arrive here.

Again, we're not anticipating any interaction with them at all. This was strictly transporting them into the hospital. I'm sure to go to bed, for crying out loud. These guys have been up a heck of a long time. but that's the procedure, and it should be just about a 10 minute flight once you see those helicopters take off.

COOPER: A 10-minute flight to Brooke Army Medical Center? And then from there we'll we see them again, or will they be out of view?

GRIFFIN: No, they'll be getting into those two vans and then just driving probably less than a quarter of a mile into the entrance to the hospital. We'll pan over there when it happens. But it doesn't look like we're going to have a good shot. They head in a parking lot, just off the helipad. The helipad is directly across from the front of the hospital.

COOPER: All right. A lot of family members I know would like to see their loved one. And so, we're going to take a short break while these helicopters are in the air. They said it's about a 10-minute flight. We'll be back certainly long before then. Just a couple minutes break, we'll be right back.


COOPER: And just moments ago that was the scene at Kelly Field at Lackland Air Force base. Doug Shupe with KSAT was there live watching it. Doug, they moved very quickly.

Did you see all three former hostages get on board the flight?

VOICE OF DOUG SHUPE, KSAT REPORTER: Yes, they did, Anderson. It was difficult to determine which ones were the freed hostages because they were on the C-17 with about 20 other military personnel and crew members. We did not see any of them do any sort of waves to the media or anything like that. They did walk very quickly off the C-17, walked about 40 feet to the two Army Blackhawk helicopters owned and operated by the Texas Army National Guard, and then they took off about three minutes ago and headed for the 10-minute flight over to Brooke Army Medical Center.

COOPER: At this point do we know the routine of what's going to happen to them there?

SHUPE: Well, we're told they'll be undergoing some observation and some treatment. We are hearing that at least two of them will need some sort of treatment for illnesses that they picked up while being taken hostage there in the jungle and are looking forward to modern medical treatment is what we're hearing. We do not know how long they'll be at Brooke Army Medical Center.

We are told, though, that there will be a ceremony tomorrow, and we are supposed to hear from them for the first time and learn more about their medical condition. That will be taking place at the Ft. Sam Houston Golf course at 3:00 p.m. Central time.

COOPER: Doug Shupe reporting from KSAT in San Antonio, Texas. Appreciate you telling us what you saw moments ago. Kelly Field, and again the choppers are in the air, helicopters heading to Brooke Army Medical Center. That's where our Drew Griffin is standing by.

Drew, where are you in relation --

GRIFFIN: See those white dots moving?

COOPER: Drew, where are you in relation to where these choppers are going to land, do you know?

GRIFFIN: Yes, I understand, you're talking to me? We think these are the choppers right here. We have a shot of them. They are actually going to cross over the top of the army hospital, the Brooke Medical Center here. And then land directly in front of us. We should have a pretty clean shot of them as they land.

COOPER: So there's two choppers? Or three?

GRIFFIN: I actually see three. I actually see three in the air. So I'm not sure if they are all carrying, you know, each individual person as an individual chopper or just who's coming over. You know, there may be some other people coming here as well. Here's the first helicopter coming in. The helicopter pad. You can actually hear the chopper blades coming. We'll just watch what happens.

COOPER: There's a still photo that just crossed on the A.P. wire. I don't know if we have that in our system yet, guys in the control room, but if we do, we should put it on because it's actually a photo that shows the three men on board a chopper. I don't know which chopper this was.

Ted, do we have that? Do you want to take it from here?

I'm just showing this from my computer. This is the first shot we have seen, this from the A.P. photo wire. That's the first shot taken from inside some chopper. We're not clear where this was taken, but obviously, it was taken at some point earlier today.

The choppers are landing. Let's go back to that shot now.

GRIFFIN: Anderson, the family members, we should have a good shot of them as they have to walk to those buses. So maybe they'll be able to tell their loved ones as we see them coming off here.

COOPER: George Gonsalves is still with us. I know he's watching at home. Is Amanda still with us as well?

HOWES: Yes, I'm still here.

COOPER: Great, Amanda.

George or Amanda, feel free to shout out if you see either Marc or Thomas.


COOPER: Looks like -- I think that's them getting off right there in the Air Force suits. I think the three have been dressed there.

HOWES: Yes. I think the middle one, the one that just -- the first one was my uncle, Thomas Howes.

COOPER: That man right there? You think that's -- that looks -- there.

HOWES: Yes, the middle one. The one shaking hands right now.

COOPER: Yes. I think all three were on that first chopper. I think these are other personnel, but I'm not entirely clear on that. There are three choppers that are landing. They've been traveling with a number of people, U.S. military personnel, probably some state department personnel as well, probably some medical personnel. And they will be moving now into Brooke Army Medical Center.

Where are they walking to, Drew?

GRIFFIN: They're actually walking onto that transport bus, and the bus will take them all over the front of the hospital. Anderson, the door to the actual bus is on the other side of our vantage point. Very difficult to make out. The individuals involved here, relatives are watching. COOPER: It's got to be frustrating, I know, Amanda, and George, for you, to just kind of get quick glimpses. But Amanda, do you think you'll be going? Or who will be going to Texas when you can, do you know?

HOWES: I'm not really sure. We're trying to figure that out with his wife to see what would be most appropriate, what she would, obviously, want from our family. We might all go. Maybe my father will just go. I might go. My brother. We're just trying to figure that out right now. We'd ideally like to speak with him at some point tonight.

Like I said, I have been in contact with the Brooke military army hospital, and they've been very well with our family. We just want to speak with him and tell him that we love him and we're so happy, we're just completely overjoyed at this point.

COOPER: And this is probably the last image we will get of them as they are taken to Brooke Army Medical Center. There is to be a press conference tomorrow, we are told. We're not sure if they will be at that press conference or not, but I think a lot probably depends -- this is the first picture now that we have just received from the A.P. wire. This was released by the U.S. embassy in Colombia. Obviously, that's Keith Stansell on the left, Marc Gonsalves there on the middle and Thomas Howes on the right.

Amanda, how does Thomas look to you in this photo?

HOWES: He looks good. He looks healthy. He looks tired. He looks just as I remembered him. He looks great. I can't wait to see him.

COOPER: George, how does Marc look?

GONZALVES: Marc looks -- he looks pretty thin. Not to mention he looks completely exhausted. But he's alive.

COOPER: He sure is. And he's back home.

GONZALVES: That's correct.

COOPER: George, I just want to thank you for spending this evening with us. My best to your wife and to your family and I hope you get to see Marc tomorrow, real soon.

GONZALVES: Yes, and I want to thank you and CNN for carrying this thing live for us. We really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

COOPER: Well, give him our best. And there are a lot of people praying and thinking about him. And importantly, I know you all want to get this out as well, the 700 people still being held hostage by this organization, FARC...

GONZALVES: Absolutely and should not be forgotten.

COOPER: ... in the jungles of Colombia. They should not be forgotten indeed.

George Gonsalves, again thank you very much.

GONZALVES: Thank you.

COOPER: And Amanda, thank you so much as well. Our best to your family.

HOWES: Thank you. And just as a side note, obviously, our families heart go out to all the families that were -- the ones that were not released. We hope for the best for those families as well.

COOPER: Well said. You know, it's got to be bittersweet for those family members as they watch these pictures as they are, no doubt, joyful and sharing in the happiness of you and all the others who are released today. It's also the sadness realizing that probably with -

HOWES: It defines the word "miracle" all over again. For everyone there's always hope. There's always hope for everyone.

COOPER: There is indeed always hope. Amanda, thank you so much.

HOWES: Thank you.

COOPER: We're going to have our coverage continues at the top of the hour. We'll be right back. We're going to take a short break and then bring you more.


COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage. This the first photo we have seen of the three rescued Americans now back on U.S. soil for the first time in more than five years. They were rescued today in the Colombian jungle along with 12 others including Ingrid Betancourt who was running for the presidency of Columbia when the FARC got her. That was six years ago.

At 4:30 this morning, she woke up, said the rosary and was told by her captors that she and her fellow hostages were to be transferred to another location. What nobody knew was that they were instead about to be rescued and just hours later Ms. Betancourt would be back in Bogota. She spoke tonight.

Here's an excerpt.


BETANCOURT (through translator): ... and that today even more so with my fellow citizens. That all these days in which I could have died and the historic commander, Manual Marulanda, passed away. I was thinking that probably my grandchildren will never know who Manuel Marulanda was because history doesn't always register those who bring forward peace, not war. That's why I think that this operation of peace will be recorded in the annals of history, not only ours but of the entire world. I would like for all of you Colombians who are listening to me, thank you god and that we feel proud of being Colombians.

A series of difficult moment. You don't think that happiness is possible again. I was praying to god, asking him to please not -- to keep the helicopter in the air. And I would ask those around me how much we had until we arrived at San Jose. They told me, three minutes, I thought it was the most eternal time, when there were three minutes until you landed, that's when we were leaving.

I remember that at that time I asked, "who knows about this?" I knew that my mom had to travel to Europe, that my daughter had a trip planned to China. And I thought, this is impossible. I'm going to get to Bogota, and there's not going to be anyone. I said, well, god, you know what is going on? I had no idea. These people with these shirts, what kind of an international commission is this? These people belong to the FARC.

Anyway, in the midst of this, I remember one of those tried to carry because they were heavy. He said after a while, after a few years, the guerrilla had finally chose to give me the dictionary that I had asked. And so that dictionary is extremely heavy. I had my equipment over my shoulder. And someone, one of the men who came, one of the young men who gave it to me to try to pick it up, and I said no, I will not let these people help me.

I'm not going to look at them or talk to them and I'm going to carry my own equipment. And when we got on the airplane they had these jackets for us. Do you remember the color of the airplane? White. Did you see if there were any emblems? Of course, Mr. President. We have become, after all these years as a guerrilla, we have become experts in identifying.


COOPER: That was Ingrid Betancourt at a press conference about an hour ago in Bogota, a press conference which is still going on. This, the scene earlier, three American hostages getting off the plane, moving very quickly, very hard to actually identify them, but they're actually to the right.

I think the camera was a little slow in panning over there. They're there. That at least is Keith Stansell. They're shaking hands with the gray hair, in the Air Force flight suit. They were then taken by helicopter to Brooke Army Medical Center. Ken Robinson, our national security and terrorism analyst, is joining us.

You know, Ken, it is an important point, I think, just as the publicity on this, you know, we see it as an American story. We see these three Americans hostages happily returned home. And we see the 12 Colombians who are home tonight including Ingrid Betancourt. But you know, it is important to remember these more than 700 men, women children are being held hostage in the country of Colombia in the jungles by this organization, FARC, which though it may be on its heels still has 9,000 to 10,000 members. ROBINSON: They still have reach. They have the ability to reach into the cities and make mischief. One of the people that they've held hostage has been the Colombian people themselves. In the times that I have lived in Colombia, you know, you had to really think twice before you drove into the countryside for something as simple as to eat on a Saturday or a Sunday.

If you get too far outside of the city, you were very vulnerable to being captured by one of the FARC patrols. What's unique now is that Colombia has really come back. As you said earlier tonight, it's a first world city, and it has all the economy of a major, thriving, international city, and it's very European in its nature. And a lot of businesses have discovered Colombia and are moving down there again.

COOPER: It's a country, no doubt, on the rise. And this is certainly a big step forward for the country of Colombia and for the people and for their sense of pride and their sense of hope and possibility. I want to thank Ken Robinson for joining us tonight and all those who have joined us tonight in our coverage. Our coverage continues after a short break.