On Friday the 13th of October, 1972, a Uruguayan Air Force twin turboprop Fairchild FH-227D was flying over the Andes carrying Stella Maris College Montevideo's "Old Christians" rugby union team from Montevideo, Uruguay to play a match in Santiago, Chile. The trip had started the day before, October 12, when the Fairchild departed from Carrasco International Airport, but inclement mountain weather forced an overnight stop in Mendoza. After resuming the flight on the afternoon of October 13, the plane was soon flying through a pass in the mountains. The pilot then notified air controllers in Santiago that he was over Curicó, Chile and was cleared to descend. This would prove to be a fatal error. Dipping into the cloud cover while still over the mountains, the Fairchild soon crashed on an unnamed peak (later called Cerro Seler, also known as Glaciar de las Lágrimas or Glacier of Tears), located between Cerro Sosneado and Volcán Tinguiririca, straddling the remote mountainous border between Chile and Argentina. The plane clipped the peak at 4200m, neatly severing the right wing, which was thrown back with such a force that it cut off the vertical stabilizer, leaving a gaping hole in the rear of the fuselage. The plane then clipped a second peak which severed the left wing and left the plane as just a fuselage flying through the air. The fuselage hit the ground and slid down a steep mountain slope before finally coming to rest in a snow bank. Of the 45 people on the plane, twelve died in the crash or shortly thereafter; another five had died by the next morning, and one more succumbed to injuries on the eighth day. The remaining 27 faced hard survival issues high in the freezing mountains. Many had suffered injuries from the crash including broken legs from the aircraft's seats piling together. The survivors lacked equipment such as cold-weather clothing and footwear suitable for the area, mountaineering goggles to prevent snow blindness (although one of the eventual survivors, 24-year-old Adolfo "Fito" Strauch, devised a couple of sunglasses by using the sun visors in the pilot's cabin which did help protect their eyes from the sun). Most gravely, they lacked any kind of medical supplies, leaving the two freshman medical students on board who had survived the crash to improvise splints and braces with salvaged parts of what remained of the aircraft. The survivors had a small amount of food: a few chocolate bars, other assorted snacks, and several bottles of wine. During the days following the crash they divided out this food in very small amounts so as not to exhaust their meager supply. Fito also devised a way to melt snow into water by using metal from the seats and placing snow on it. The snow then melted in the sun and dripped into empty wine bottles. Even with this strict rationing, their food stock dwindled quickly. Furthermore, there was no natural vegetation or animals on the snow-covered mountain. The group thus survived by collectively making a decision to eat flesh from the bodies of their dead comrades. This decision was not taken lightly. A few of the boys became insistent that their only means of survival would be to climb over the mountains themselves and search for help. Due to the co-pilot's assertion that the plane had passed Curico, the group assumed that the Chilean countryside was just a few miles away to the west. Several of the healthiest and strongest survivors made excursions in many directions in an attempt to find the plane's tail section and their friends who had fallen from the plane at the point of impact (the bodies of six were found higher up the mountain on one such expedition). Many potential expeditionaries were deterred by the difficulty of hiking at such a high altitude as well as surviving the bitterly cold nights. After a few trial runs, a final group was formed which included Nando Parrado, Roberto Canessa and Antonio "Tintin" Vizíntin. On Roberto Canessa's insistence, Parrado, and Canessa himself first attempted to travel east, down into the cordillera to find the tail. On this run, they did find the tail of the plane. It contained several suitcases. They found scraps of food, a comic book, clothing and cigarettes. Tintin also discovered insulating material wrapped around pipes (which would prove later to be the key to their escape). On December 12, 1972, some two months after the crash, Parrado, Canessa and Vizintín began their trek up the mountainside. Parrado took the lead, and often had to be called to slow down. Although it was still bitterly cold, the sleeping bag made of the insulation from the tail allowed them to live through the nights. On the third day of the trek, Parrado reached the top of the mountain before the other two expeditionaries. What he saw literally took his breath away. Stretched before him as far as the eye could see were more mountains. Spying a small "Y" in the distance, he gauged that a way out of the mountains must lay beyond, and refused to give up hope. Knowing that the hike would take more energy than they'd originally planned for, Parrado and Canessa sent Vizintín back to the crash site, as they were rapidly running out of rations. It only took him about three hours to return. Parrado and Canessa hiked for several more days, reaching the end of the snowline. On the ninth evening Parrado and Canessa set down to rest. As Parrado was gathering wood to build a fire, Canessa noticed what looked like a man on a horse at the other side of the river, and yelled at the near-sighted Parrado to run down to the banks. At first it seemed that Canessa had been imagining the man on the horse, but eventually they saw three men on horseback. Divided by a river, Nando and Canessa tried to convey their situation to which one of them, a Chilean Huaso named Sergio Catalan, shouted "tomorrow." They knew at this point they would be saved and settled to sleep by the river. The next day the men returned and tied paper to a rock and pencil which they threw to the boys. Parrado wrote a note telling them about the plane crash and threw it back to them. Catalan rode on horseback for many hours to bring help and eventually a rescue team with helicopters appeared. Nando was recruited to fly back to the mountain in order to guide the helicopters to the remaining survivors. The news that people had survived the October 13th crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 had also leaked to the international press and a flood of reporters also began to appear. The following day, those remaining at the crash site heard on their radio that Parrado and Canessa had been successful in finding help and that afternoon, December 22, 1972, a helicopter carrying Parrado and two search and rescue climbers arrived, taking half of the survivors. It departed, leaving the Andinists and remaining survivors at the crash site until the second helicopter could arrive. Leaving was again delayed until the following morning due to the hazards of flying into the Andes at night, leaving those left behind to once again sleep in the fuselage. The second helicopter arrived at daybreak on December 23, and with that, all sixteen survivors were rescued. All of the survivors were taken to hospitals in Santiago and treated for altitude sickness, dehydration, frostbite, broken bones, scurvy and malnutrition. When first rescued, the survivors initially explained that they had eaten some cheese they had carried with them, planning to discuss the details in private with their families. However, they were pushed into the public eye when photos were leaked to the press and sensational, unauthorized articles were published. The survivors thus held a press conference on December 28 at Stella Maris College (Montevideo), where they recounted the events of the past 72 days (over the years, they would also participate in the publication of two books, two films, and an official website about the event). In addition, those who had perished were later buried under a pile of stones a half mile from the crash site. The grave was commemorated by an iron cross erected from its center. What remained of the fuselage was burned to thwart curiosity seekers.
Tags: andes, flight, disaster, plane, crash, alive, viven, fuerza, aerea, uruguaya, fokker, 27, cannibal, death, mendoza, santiago, chile, argentina, uruguay
Marked as: approved
Views: 33578 | Comments: 14 | Votes: 1 | Favorites: 5 | Shared: 4 | Updates: 0 | Times used in channels: 1
|Liveleak on Facebook|