SAN ANTONIO, Texas — 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, who has family in Bradenton, 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 rescued by Colombia's military in a daring mission Wednesday. Also freed were French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and 11 Colombians.
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."
In an interview broadcast Saturday in Colombia, 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.
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 Sen. Luis Eladio Perez, who was freed in February, says 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 been reunited with 16-year-old Kyle and 19-year-old Lauren, his ex-wife Kelly Coady said by phone from Bradenton.