Before the crash, he'd been having an affair with a Colombian flight attendant named Patricia Medina.
"I was doing a bad thing," Stansell said. "I was living a double life. I'm not proud of it but it's the truth."
Just before he was taken hostage, Stansell had learned Medina was pregnant with twins, but he told her that while he would support his children, he intended to marry his fiancée in the U.S.
"I was pregnant, we weren't married, so I was alone with the boys," Medina said. "Their father taken by the guerillas, and nobody knows when he's going to come back. So it was very sad."
As the years wore on, it became clear to Stansell that his fiancée had decided to move on, but Medina continued to send messages.
I said, "I love you, I want to be with you, and I want to be a family," she said. "I couldn't forget him. I was having lunch, dinner, and working, and he always was on my mind."
For more than three years, the men were told they might soon be released, only to have their hopes dashed. At times they were chained to each other or to a hammock post for 24 hours a day.
In late 2007, the FARC made a second proof of life video in an effort to force a prisoner exchange. Since the last video in 2003, the men had clearly lost weight, and Stansell's stepmother recalled thinking her son looked "like he's been through hell."
Neither the hostages nor their kidnappers could know that everything was about to change. The Colombian military, with help from the U.S., had cracked the kidnappers' radio codes. As the Colombian army eavesdropped on the terrorists' communications, they hatched an audacious plan to rescue the hostages.
"It's like playing poker," said Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian minister of defense. "You need to have a bit of luck. You need to know how the other people who are playing think and you must outwit them."
The plan was simple, dangerous and incredibly bold. It was inspired by the release of another group of hostages in early 2008 to aid workers from the Red Cross. The military sent a phony radio message to the terrorists, telling them that the terrorist leader wanted to see the hostages for himself. They said a group of humanitarian aid workers would fly 15 hostages and two terrorists to their leader. In fact, the "aid workers" would actually be Colombian commandos. They would be unarmed during the mission, and to prepare for their roles, they had to take acting classes to work on new identities and foreign accents.
On the morning of July 2, 2008, Gonsalves, Stansell and Howes emerged from the jungle, joined by the other Colombian hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt. All watched nervously as the fake "humanitarian workers" got out of the helicopter, including a phony television crew recording the event. As part of the plan, the commandos moved to tie the hostages' hands, but Howes resisted.
"He said, 'I'm not going to be handcuffed like an animal and put on this helicopter,'" recalled Stansell.
One of the workers introduced himself as an Australian, but his accent seemed off, and Stansell nearly blew his cover.
"He said, 'trust me, I'm going to get you out of here,'" Stansell said. "And I looked at him and I said ... 'I don't need to hear any more than that, we're out of here.'"