The Miracle in Andes
48 years ago on this day, passengers of the Uruguayan Flight 571 crashed into the cold mountains of Andes, initially killing 16, and leaving 29 brave individuals for almost two months, not knowing they would have to resort to cannibalism to survive.
October 13, 1972 | A Day to Remember
It was Friday the 13th - members of the Uruguayan college rugby team Old Christians Club were traveling by plane to play a game in Chile when the unexpected happened, the aircraft in which everyone was aboard hit the mountains (in a part that was called the Glacier of Tears). As per the official investigation, the accident was caused by controlled flight into terrain; a term used to describe an accident that takes place when a pilot-controlled aircraft is unintentionally flown into the ground, the mountains, or the waters. Reports say that the pilots, who were relying on radio navigation (due to clouds covering the skies), descended too early, which caused the severe turbulence, and eventually, the crash.
Since the plane never made it to Santiago, Chile, authorities started doing a search and rescue operation in an attempt to find the passengers. Unfortunately, the conditions were so harsh, and clouds were so thick, that almost nothing was visible from the rescue planes, leading them to believe that everyone was dead, and so they called off the search after eight days. The stranded individuals, who were hoping they’ll be rescued, were now left on their own in the Andes mountains, one of South America’s largest continental ranges.
What the injured survivors had to go through during those 72 days were hard to imagine. They endured freezing below zero temperatures without appropriate clothing, proper shelter, and meals. Everyone was tucked inside the broken fuselage out in the extreme cold. There was no way to get potable water (they just melted snow) or food because there were no animals or vegetation in the snow-covered mountains. The scenarios resembled those of what you’d usually see in fiction movies, except that it was reality.
The high altitude also made it difficult for them to breathe, worsening the discomfort they are already experiencing. To survive, they had to use whatever was available; seat covers were converted to blankets or foot covers, the few snacks they had were rationed, and they ate leather at some point. An avalanche also struck their improvised shelter while they were sleeping, taking more lives.
Resorting to Cannibalism
Most members of the Old Christians rugby team were religious, so cannibalism wasn’t something they thought they would ever consider, but their bodies were running out of nutrients, and they knew they had to do something. There was only one option left to prevent prolonged starvation, and that was to eat the flesh of their colleagues and loved ones; the cold temperature preserved the life-giving proteins in the dead bodies that they needed to survive. As you would have guessed, the decision was difficult to make. The remaining survivors had to make a pact to offer their bodies (if they die) to the living to provide sustenance. They just thought of it as a form of communion to be able to do it, and so, Roberto Canessa took the lead and used a broken glass to make the first incision and consume the first slice of human meat. Others then followed.
The Will to Live
The strong will to live was what gave the survivors the strength to keep fighting. Without knowing anything about the right directions, and with no hiking experience, Antonio Vizintin, Roberto Canessa, and Fernando Parrado set out to look for the nearest Chilean grassland to ask for help. Thankfully, they did find a herdsman named Sergio Catalan, who, according to another survivor Gustavo Zerbino, traveled 120 kilometers to inform the authorities about their situation.
A Second Chance at Life
On December 22, 1972, two helicopters were sent to the wreckage to rescue the first batch of survivors. The day after (December 23, 1972), authorities came back for the remaining ones, just in time before Christmas, a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Today, anyone who wants to relive the miracle at the Andes mountains can watch the movies or read the books that were inspired by the event. See titles below for reference:
Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains (2008)
I’m Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash (2010)
Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Back Home by Nando Parrado
Out of the Silence: After the Crash by Eduardo Stuarch
I Had to Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired my Calling to Save Lives by Roberto Canessa
Into the Mountains by Pedro Algorta
That would be all for today, thank you for reading today’s post!