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Three freed U.S. hostages give thanks for rescue from rebels

Monday, July 7, 2008

SAN ANTONIO -- The three American hostages rescued by Colombia's military said in their first public statement that they are doing fine and are thrilled to "return home to the country we love."

In a statement released late Friday by the U.S. Army, the men thanked their families, the Colombian military and the U.S. government, "who never forgot us."

"For five and a half long years, we all hoped and prayed this day would come," the men said. "Now that it has, we're just overwhelmed with emotion. The love and the joy we're all experiencing is beyond description."

The three freed American hostages -- Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes -- have been receiving medical care at Brooke Army Medical Center at San Antonio's Fort Sam Houston. The three were working for a Northrop Grumman Corp. subsidiary when their drug-surveillance plane went down in Colombia's southern jungle in February 2003.

They were among 15 hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and 11 Colombians, rescued by Colombia's military in a daring mission Wednesday.

In their statement, which was released on the Fourth of July, the men said, "We can't think of a better time to thank our fellow citizens for never giving up on us, for never forgetting us, for always believing that we would, one day, return home to the country we love."

The Army also released a photo of the trio clad in jeans, posing with smiling Army officials. Gonsalves clutched a small American flag in his hand.

Reuniting a family

In an interview broadcast Saturday, Stansell's Colombian fiancee told that nation's RCN Radio that she has traveled to meet him in Texas along with their 5-year-old twin boys, who will see their father for the first time.

Patricia Medina said she and Stansell plan to get married. She spoke before leaving Colombia on Friday for San Antonio.

Medina was pregnant when Stansell's plane went down. Stansell later learned in captivity that she had given birth to twins, Nicolas and Keith.

"We're going to organize the wedding," Medina said. "We talked to Keith last night. He talked with the boys."

She said that Stansell told her "he's super happy, and that he's waiting for us there."

Former Colombian senator Luis Eladio Perez, who was freed in February, said he relayed Stansell's marriage proposal to Medina back then, and she accepted.

Medina met Stansell in April 2002 while working as a flight attendant on an Avianca flight.

Stansell, who has other children from a previous marriage, has also been reunited with 16-year-old Kyle and 19-year-old Lauren, his ex-wife Kelly Coady said by phone from Sarasota, Fla.


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