Nando Parrado was part of the Young Christians rugby team in Uruguay and when the team intended to go to play a match in Santiago, Chile, he was chosen for the team. In October 1972 a plane took off for Chile carrying the young men of the team, plus some of their families and supporters. There were forty-five people aboard.
When flying over the Andes Mountains – that treacherous and inhospitable land – and due, it’s believed, to navigational error the plane hit the side of a mountain. It lost a wing and a huge hole was torn in the fuselage. Hitting another peak, the other wing was torn away and the aircraft plummeted, buffered and slid its way to an eventual halt in a snowdrift.
Twelve people had died.
The survivors – shocked, bewildered and bereaved – huddled together for the night in the remains of the fuselage to discover that when they woke, a further five people had succumbed to their injuries.
Most of the survivors were young men,many having severe wounds from the crash. The only thing they could do was try to keep warm, stay alive and hope that a rescue team was on its way.
They had little food – who takes sustenance on a short flight – in fact, just a few chocolate bars. The frozen landscape in which they found themselves had absolutely no vegetation, so wildlife and provided nothing in the way of nourishment.
Praying that the recover teams would soon arrive, the young men concentrated on trying to keep warm – they had no clothes suitable for the frozen climes. But there was bad news. The rescue teams were searching from the air – it’s impossible by any other means – and the white aircraft wreckage was completely hidden in the snow. The survivors waited and waited. They had found a small transistor radio in the wreckage and listened to it sparingly so that they could preserve the batteries but eleven days after the crash, they heard that the search for them had been called off. It was presumed that all aboard had perished in the mountains.
Logically, it was assumed that if there had been survivors of the accident itself, then they would have died of exposure, injuries or lack of food. The men realised that the only way they were going to survive was if they helped themselves – there was no other help at hand.
Seventeen days after the accident, as the twenty-seven survivors were huddled into the fuselage – their only protection against the weather – there was a huge avalanche. The fuselage was buried in snow and rocks and a further eight people died. The remainder were literally buried alive in the wreckage of the plane. Nando Parrado managed to create a hole in the top of the damaged aircraft to provide ventilation and the men managed to free themselves.
They decided that the only way they could survive would be for a small party of them to venture into the high mountains trying to find some signs of civilisation. But the weather was at its worst and they were weak from lack of food and in no condition to climb even the lowest peak. Several of them suggested a solution to the food problem, distasteful though it was to these young Roman Catholic men. A few declared that they would rather starve to death than do what was suggested – and indeed they did.
But sixty days after the crash, Nando and another man set off to discover whether it was possible to escape from their mountainous prison. Ten days later, an Andes horseman was astonished to see the two men in the foothills. At first he refused to believe that they had survived what had become the well-known air accident.
But seventy-one days after the plane had crashed, the two survivors directed a rescue helicopter to the crash site. Several men were rescued. The following day, the helicopter returned for the remaining survivors.
There were a total of sixteen survivors.
On December 26th, the Santiago newspaper El Mercurio reported that all survivors resorted to cannibalism.
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