Rescued American Hostages Return Home

Three Americans rescued Wednesday in Colombia from FARC rebels have returned to the United States. Five years ago, their plane was shot down over FARC-held territory. One of them met with family members. The other two were expected to do the same.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now to NPR's Wade Goodwyn. He's at Fort Sam Houston Army post in Texas. That's where the three Americans freed in Colombia were flown yesterday. Today, military doctors and an Army commander held a news conference to talk about how those Americans are doing.

And Wade joins us now. Wade, what can you tell us about the condition of the three men?

WADE GOODWYN: Well, the Army doctors and the commander of U.S. Army South were understandably constrained in what they could tell us about the medical condition of Randy Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves. But what we're hearing is that they're actually in pretty good shape. They were described by the doctors as stress hardy, which I guess, after five and a half years in the jungle, if you're in pretty good shape, you must be pretty stress hardy. But from what we can tell, these men are in remarkable condition given what they've been through.

NORRIS: Well, what else do we know about their background and what they were doing in Colombia?

GOODWYN: Well, you know, the three men lived in Florida. Randy Howes is originally from Chatham, Massachusetts, but he lives in Florida with his wife Mariana and his 10-year-old son, who I guess, was four and a half when Howes last saw him. These men were on a counter-narcotics mission in February of 2003 when their single engine plane went down in rebel territory and they were captured.

And, you know, all three men were living with their families in Florida. Keith Stansell was working with the division of Northrop Grumman. And we heard today that he was reunited, the first to be reunited with his family. He was reunited with his mother and father and his son and daughter.

NORRIS: So one has been reunited. The other two?

GOODWYN: The other two will be reunited today. Marc Gonsalves lives with his wife and daughter and two stepdaughters in Florida. It's been extremely hard on his mother, Rosano Gonsalves and the rest of his family. Rosano Gonsalves, Marc's mother, continue to speak out about her son's kidnapping which put her at odds with her ex-husband and her other son, Michael. And they believed it was best that the family kept quiet.

And, in fact, Michael stopped talking to his mother because he was accusing her of wanting to be famous. It gives you some sense of the stress these families go through and how, you know, it can tear them apart. Hopefully, with Marc home safe and sound and with his guidance, these kinds of family wounds will heal.

NORRIS: Thank you, Wade.

GOODWYN: My pleasure.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Wade Goodwyn speaking to us from Fort Sam Houston Army post in Texas.

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U.S. Hostages Rescued In Colombia Arrive In Texas

Three American military contractors rescued by Colombian authorities have returned to the United States, landing in San Antonio after being held for five years by FARC rebels.

Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes all worked for Northrop Grumman and were captured in 2003 after their light aircraft crashed in the jungles during a counternarcotics operation.

After landing, the three boarded a helicopter and were transported to Brooke Army Medical Center, where they were undergoing evaluation and treatment before being reunited with family and loved ones.

The three, along with former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and 11 other hostages, were rescued in a daring operation that involved months of intelligence gathering and a ruse in which the guerrillas were tricked into loading their captives onto a disguised government helicopter.

Betancourt, 46, was abducted in February 2002.

A flight carrying the three Americans landed in Texas late Wednesday after being flown there directly.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, in a celebratory news conference on Wednesday flanked by the freed hostages, said he wants the rebels of FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, to know he seeks "a path to peace, total peace."

Many Colombians believe the end is near for the FARC, whose ranks are filled with poor peasants resentful of government neglect but who are widely despised for their political kidnappings and reliance on cocaine trafficking.

FARC battlefield losses and widespread desertions have cut rebel numbers in half to about 9,000 as the United States has poured billions of dollars in military aid into Colombia in support of Uribe.

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