Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes inside an airplane after… (EPA/U.S. Embassy/Handout )
NEW YORK — Jo Rosano, a Connecticut mother whose son was kidnapped by Colombian rebels five years ago, said 2008 would be the year of miracles.
On Wednesday, her prediction came true.
Colombian soldiers infiltrated the jungle camp where her son, Marc Gonsalves, had been held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC. Gonsalves and two other Americans, Thomas Howes of Massachusetts and Keith Stansell of Florida, were rescued along with former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and 11 other hostages.
The three Americans were employees of Northrop Grumman Corp. when they were taken hostage after their plane developed engine trouble and crashed during a drug surveillance mission in southern Colombia in February 2003.
Officials said the men were flown to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
"We're still teary-eyed and not quite have our wits about us," Stansell's stepmother, Lynne, told the Associated Press after hearing he was free.
Howes' niece, Amanda, said the rescue "redefines the word miracle."
Friends of Rosano said she had spent the last week traveling through Europe to draw attention to the hostages and was scheduled to return this week.
"Our thoughts and prayers have been answered," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said in a statement. He had been working with the State Department to ensure families receive updates.
"This is a wonderful day for all of the hostages released today and their loved ones who have been forced to endure five years of heartache and worry," Dodd said. "I am truly happy for Marc's mother, Jo Rosano. . . . I know that they will have a joyous reunion."
On Tuesday, Rosano had joined Betancourt's daughter Melanie Delloye-Betancourt in a news conference in London, before any of them realized their relatives would be free.
"They all spoke very movingly and eloquently about their respective family members," Eugenia Anastassiou, a friend of Rosano's, said from London. "It was just unbelievable that a day later, after hearing such a sad story about such courageous people, that I'm now watching Melanie speaking on CNN."
Anastassiou said Betancourt's daughter "was so pitiful and small yesterday in London" and on Wednesday she became "a glowing, lively, happy young lady."
Rosano, a Bristol resident, had traveled to Colombia three times seeking her son's release and has visited Washington a dozen times to beg lawmakers to help.
In September, she met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the United Nations.
"This is great for mankind," said Joao Crisostomo of New York, who organized a petition among Portuguese American associations across the country in support of freedom for the hostages.
"People were in danger of being killed," Crisostomo said, "but they were not neglected, they were remembered."
Armand Burguet, a supporter of Rosano who lives in Belgium and started the website betancourt.info to raise awareness about the hostages, said the site crashed from thousands of viewers trying to access it as news of the rescue spread. "I was surprised," he said. "We've been fighting for a long, long time. We never felt that we would succeed."
Lisa Cabrera, 39, Rosano's best friend from San Diego, said the two have spent many nights praying for the hostages' safety, comfort and release.
Rosano knew from news reports, messages to relatives and conversations with a former hostage that her son, who suffers from hepatitis, was often chained at the neck to other prisoners.
"Jo says she'll have a big party," Cabrera said, "and I've got my ticket ready for when that happens."