The Detailed story
The Detailed Story
The trip starts
On October 12, 1972, at 8:05 in the morning, the Fairchild F-227 issue number 571 of the Uruguayan Air Force took off from Carrasco airport in Montevideo, for Santiago, Chile. There were forty passengers and five crew members onboard.
Among the passengers were members of the Old Christians rugby team, together with their friends and relatives. The flight plan was to cover the 1,500 km distance between Montevideo and Santiago in approximately four hours. While they were flying over Argentinean territory, the commander, Julio César Ferradas and the co-pilot Dante Héctor Lagurara, were notified of poor weather conditions in the Andes mountains. They decided to interrupt the flight with a stop at the Mendoza airport.
Although he had crossed over the Andes twenty nine times, Ferradas was worried about the flight. While the mountain chain is only 170 meters wide, the average height of the peaks is 4,000 meters. The tallest mountain, Mendoza´s Aconcagua, reaches 6,959 meters in height and is the highest peak on the American continent. Given that the Fairchild could only ascend to 7,000 meters, the crew knew they had to find a pass with lower peaks.
Fateful Friday the 13th
The next day, Friday, October 13, the sky had partially cleared up and at 2:18 pm the plane took off again. The Fairchild, one of the planes acquired by the Uruguayan Air Force in 1970, had logged only 972 flight hours and co-pilot Lagurara, in the process of being trained by Col. Ferradas, was flying the plane.
Lagurara directed the plane towards Malargüe, on the Argentine side of the Planchón Pass, at an altitude of 18,000 feet (5,486 m) and with a variable tail wind of 20 to 60 knots above a thick cloud cover. At 3:08 pm he informed the Malargüe airport of their position and he estimated that they would be reaching Planchón at 15:21 pm, a place where Mendoza air transit control ended and Pudahuel air transit control, in Santiago, Chile, began. According to the records, Lagurara radioed the Santiago airport at 15:21 pm with an update that he was flying over the Planchón pass and that he anticipated reaching the small Chilean town of Curicó at 15:32 pm.
The moderate tail wind speed had increased, so they reduced the plane's cruising speed from 210 to 180 knots. At 3:24, three minutes after their first communication with Santiago, the Fairchild notified air traffic control that Curicó was in sight and that they were heading for Maipú, so they turned the plane at a right angle to head north. It was then that, despite the difference in time from what had been estimated, Santiago air traffic control accepted the information given by Lagurara to be true and authorized him to descend slowly to 3,500 meters in order to reach the Pudahuel airport.
At 3:30, the Santiago control verified that the plane had descended 1,000 meters. During the descent, at 4,600 meters, the Fairchild dipped into the clouds and started shaking and falling into strong air pockets, so Ferradas ordered the passengers to fasten their seat belts. In that moment the plane entered into a strong downward air current and violently dropped several hundred meters.
Inside the plane the festive and relaxed mood among the passengers suddenly changed to fear and anxiety. There was a second sharp fall and the passengers next to the windows were shocked to see that the plane had fallen beneath the clouds and was passing only a few meters away from the mountain peaks. Then they all heard the roar of engines as the pilots desperately attempted to gain altitude. The plane rose slightly, but it was already too late. Within seconds they heard the clamor and the horrifying blow of the right wing of the airplane crashing against the mountain. The wing splintered off and was hurled backwards, cutting into the fuselage and separating the tail of the Fairchild from the rest of the plane. In the crash the steward, the navigator and three young seatbelted passengers were pulled out through the gaping hole in the back of the plane and fell to their deaths. Immediately afterward, due to another impact, the left wing was ripped from the body of the plane.
Missing the wings, part of the fuselage, and the tail, the remainder of the plane slid down the snow covered mountain at great speed like a toboggan. Those who remember the moment had thought they would crash against the rocks or fall into an abyss, but fortune caused the fuselage to slide into a valley where it slowed down in speed due to the friction of the plane against the thick snow layer. The strength of the deceleration and the abrupt stop caused the seats to break loose from the floor and the passengers were thrown forward, colliding against one other and knocking down the partition of the baggage compartment which separated them from the cockpit.
A deep silence followed the impact and the wild journey made by the plane, but little by little screams, complaints, moans, prayers and shouts for help began to fill the silence. A mood of disbelief and desolation invaded the place as the survivors began to free themselves from their seats. The penetrating smell of plane fuel spread and made some passengers jump outside of the wreckage in fear of fire or an explosion. Some immediately began to assist the wounded, to remove the jumble of seats and to remove the dead from the fuselage, while others remained motionless, having lost consciousness due to the shock.