The final expedition
The Final Expedition
The way out becomes a reality
The search for a way out was a common goal, but the survivors showed their resolve in different ways. Some had felt motivated since October 23rd, when they learned that the search for the Fairchild had been cancelled, while others had began to feel longings to save their lives during by the avalanche.
Although the survival instinct ensured that certain principles of organization and discipline were maintained, simple survival was not enough. They had to find a way out.
Days passed and some members of the group who were healthy and strong enough to hike in the high altitude made several expeditions to reconnoiter the surroundings and to search for the tail of the plane. The members of this new group were called the "expeditionaries." They were to be distinguished by their better physical condition, their courage and their capacity to overcome difficulties.
Finally Parrado and Canessa were chosen for the most difficult mission. Taking their physical abilities to the limit, they walked for nine exhausting days. At last, they started to see that the snow layer was getting thinner and bits of vegetation could be seen. Excited and renewed by this glimmer of hope, they found the energy to make the final effort. Soon, they came to a valley that was crossed by a river. Far away on the other side, they saw three men on horseback. They shouted desperately for help. One of the riders reined in his horse and shouted something to them. The noise of the river drowned out his voice and they could only decipher the word, "tomorrow." "Tomorrow" was quite enough, coming from somebody from the outer world. It was their first sign of salvation. It truly seemed that they only had to wait one more day.
The next morning, the rider returned with two men. He went to the edge of the river, and writing a note on a piece of paper, he wrapped it around a stone and threw it across the river. Parrado picked it up and read: "I have sent a man who will arrive there soon". Parrado searched his clothing for something to write with. Finding only some lipstick he had used as lip protector, he gestured to the peasant who understood his signals and wrapped a ballpoint pen with another stone in a handkerchief to toss across the river. Parrado wrote a message, added "SOS" with the lipstick and hurled it to the peasant.
“ I come from a plane that fell in the mountains. I am Uruguayan. We have been walking for ten days. I have a wounded friend up there. In the plane there are still fourteen injured people. We have to get out from here quickly and we don´t know how. We don´t have any food. We are weak. When are you going to come to fetch us? Please, we cannot even walk. Where are we? SOS"
Three hours later Armando Serda, the man sent by the peasant, rode towards them on their side of the river. He told them that Catalán had gone to contact the military post in Puente Negro and he led them to a rustic hut used by the peasants. Then, in the landlord´s nearby hut, the two men were offered food and beds. After Canessa and Parrado slept for several hours, a group of soldiers arrived and told them that the helicopters would come the next morning. This happened at Los Maitenes on December 21st.
The following morning was so foggy that the helicopters were delayed. As Canessa and Parrado were having breakfast, they worried about the rescue of their companions. They knew that every hour that passed which they were able to enjoy was an eternity for the ones still trapped on the mountain. During the wait they began to hear strange shouts and the sounds of people approaching. The two men could not imagine what was happening. Nearly fifty journalists were descending on the place, which, considering the loneliness of the landscape, was a multitude. The reporters had reached the nearest possible place by taxi, and then, loaded with their equipment, had walked for almost two hours. They came asking "Los Maitenes? And the survivors? Where are the survivors?" "El Mercurio newspaper," one said. "BBC London", another shouted. Only in that moment did Parrado and Canessa become aware of the significance of their circumstances. The isolation had prevented them, as well as the rest of the group, from foreseeing the worldwide importance of their survival in the Andes. They even used to think about how, in the event that they were saved and with the absolute candor they were accustomed to, they would tell their parents and relatives that they were alive.