The accident within the accident
October 29 was the sixteenth day they spent on the mountain. Life went on under conditions of absolute instability and with no hope of change in the future. It was a clear day and by mid-morning the survivors had started their daily routine of cleaning the interior of the fuselage, removing blankets and clothes to air them out in the sun. Afterwards they arranged the seats outside the remainder of the plane and sat watching the skies, always with the hope of seeing someone or something moving. Apart from the cleaning team, the others kept busy melting snow for drinking water, sewing blankets out of the seat covers, cutting meat and preparing rations. Each silently suffered with their own thoughts. Silently, lost in the burden of their own thoughts, their minds were permanently troubled by a world of feelings and sensations.
When the sun set behind the mountains and it was time to sleep, they started the nightly ritual of warming up beside each other to avoid losing the little heat that they could create by being together. Getting any sleep at all in such close quarters was not easy, because when some of them managed to fall asleep, a small whisper or the slightest movement would awaken them.
Eduardo Strauch´s words on his feelings when he was covered by the snow:
“At that moment, I felt crushed by tons of snow and a horrible desperation that I was dying. Then I began to feel the sensation of pleasure and that I was going towards something beautiful. I saw images of all my life pass before me in vibrant colors, thousands of very powerful images.”
Until now it seemed that it was just one more day ending like normal. They had survived one more day.
As they were trying to fall sleep for the night Gustavo Nicolich and Diego Storm seemed to be depressed, so Roy Harley resolved to talk to them, to encourage them and try to lift their spirits. To do this, he got up to switch places on the floor to be able to talk to both his friends at once. This situation, seconds later, would mark a distinct before and after moment in the odyssey. Roy, in going to assist his friends, had not yet finished arranging himself in his new place when he heard two terrifying roaring sounds and in a matter of seconds he saw tons of snow tearing down the makeshift wall that the survivors prepared daily to close the opening of the fuselage. Roy sat up instinctively and was astonished to see that the floor had suddenly disappeared and all his companions had been covered by a meter and a half of snow. Despite being buried up to his chest in the snow, he started digging and uncovered Carlos Paez´s face, allowing both of them to continue digging in the snow as fast as they could to get oxygen to the others. Roberto Canessa and Adolfo Strauch were uncovered next and despair set in as the minutes passed and their friends remained buried. Harley, Páez, Sabella and Canessa dug frantically with their frozen hands, and Adolfo Strauch freed himself completely with Harley´s help and immediately shouted to his cousin Eduardo, telling him to hold on. Eduardo, José Luis Inciarte, Daniel Fernández Strauch and Roberto François all managed to crawl out of the same hole Adolfo had emerged from.
They immediately began to search for Marcelo Pérez, the captain of the rugby team, the leader of the group and the very close friend of Eduardo Strauch. But when they found him, he was already dead. The ones that had been rescued kept hearing weak, muffled voices coming up from under the snow. Roy, without having freed himself completely, looked for his friend Diego Storm, but his hands were completely frozen and had lost all feeling.
In the baggage compartment Antonio Vizintin, who was wounded and on one of the hammocks they had constructed, tried to help with the digging. Rafael Echevarren, also wounded, could not move and Arturo Nogueira was in a state of shock. While Páez was searching for his friends, Gustavo Nicolich and Diego Storm, warming his hands with a lighter, he was able to talk with Gustavo Zerbino through a tunnel of snow, who assured him that he was all right and was trying to rescue another member of the group. When Páez found Nicolich, he was dead. Fernando Parrado was still trapped under the snow, but he remembered having read once that you could survive several minutes under the snow and he waited until he felt someone moving near him to ask for help. Páez rescued Parrado and then kept looking for his friend Storm, but by the time Storm was found it was too late. Canessa, for his part, found his friend Daniel Maspons dead.
The barrier they had built every night out of the plane door and assorted luggage in order to block the opening to the rear part of the fuselage had turned into a fatal trap for Juan Carlos Menendez and the plane mechanic Carlos Roque, but by some mechanism of fate had worked to save the lives of José Pedro Algorta, Alfredo Delgado and Numa Turcatti.
When they reached Javier Methol, he begged them to save his wife first, and, with Zerbino´s help, they tried hard to find her. When they finally reacher her, she was dead. Javier broke down and began to cry inconsolably, and that was the most sorrowful moment in that terrible night. Liliana Methol was not just the only surviving woman in the group, she represented the motherly figure for everybody. She had comforted them all with her nderstanding and tenderness. Although each person suffered the pain of losing one or more friends that night, Liliana´s death was a shared grief for all the survivors.
Approximately one hour later, before they had a chance to get used to the new tragedy, the survivors sensed that another avalanche was coming toward the plane. This one may have been of a greater intensity than the first, because, with speed and fury, it passed over the fuselage and no snow made its way inside. This second avalanche completely covered the fuselage with a thick layer of snow.
The group was exhausted by the arduous task of digging in the snow and devastated by emotional shock. Their clothes and footwear were soaked; all their blankets and extra clothes had been buried in the snow. Accustomed as they were to helping each other, they began to punch and massage each other to avoid freezing. They dug a hole in the reduced space of the cabin, which allowed them to stay seated while one person at a time could stand in the center and jump to keep their feet from freezing.
In a moment they noticed the lack of air, and the seriousness of the situation was confirmed quickly when they found they could not keep their lighters lit. Parrado took a cane from the baggage compartment and struck at the roof until he opened a hole, bringing oxygen into the fuselage again.
The next morning they discovered that they were completely covered by snow. There was a great storm outside and it was snowing intensely. The group stayed inside for two more days, and on November 1st, when the weather improved, they were able to go outside. Six of them went out to warm themselves in the sun on the roof of the plane, where the heat was most concentrated. Canessa and Zerbino removed snow from the windows to allow the light to enter; the Strauch cousins, Eduardo, Adolfo and Daniel Fernández Strauch focused on melting snow to obtain drinking water.
It took the survivors nearly eight days to take out the dead bodies and to clean the plane. The snow had turned to ice and tools had to be improvised to break it. In the meantime, they had to feed themselves from the bodies of those who died in the avalanche, as the bodies outside had disappeared under the snow.
Eight people died in the avalanche. Of the original forty-five passengers, only nineteen now remained alive.
The avalanche caused more pain, but also acted as a strong incentive to look for a way out. It can be argued that the avalanche was a hinge, a turning point that opened a new door to hope. From that moment on, those who were in better physical and psychological condition were determined to find a way out. From October 30 on, each gave the best of themselves to reach that aim, and each person understood that the only possible miracle was to discover the strengths and skills that God had given them.