A succession of emotions
On December 20, after nine days without any news of the "expeditionaries", the fourteen survivors of the Fairchild were in very low spirits. Even though Vizintín had returned, leaving his food ration to Parrado and Canessa, this was a lapse of time longer than the most pessimistic expectations.
That same day, many kilometers away, Parrado and Canessa had succeeded in making their first contact with civilization through the peasant Sergio Catalán.
On Thursday, the 21st, the second contact was made and Catalán took Parrado´s note by horseback to the nearest military post. The military had transferred the information to the S.A.R (Air Rescue Service), where the news was received with complete skepticism. No one could believe that any human could survive an airplane crash in the middle of the Cordillera and appear hiking out two months later. Initially, they thought that the two hikers were mountain climbers trying to search for the Fairchild, but towards evening they began to suppose that they really could be two survivors, so a rescue was organized for the next day.
Meanwhile, on the 21st, the group continued to fulfill their assigned routines as usual and at 7:30 am Eduardo Strauch and his cousin, Daniel Fernández, left the fuselage to listen to the news on their small transistor radio. They learned that the Uruguayan Air Force C-47 plane, hired by a group of parents who had been searching for them anew, was returning to Montevideo without any success. They were disappointed, but this was not the news they were waiting for, as they were anxious to hear something about Canessa and Parrado. That evening Carlos Páez told Adolfo Strauch that he had had a premonition that the two expeditionaries had reached their goal, but given the many disappointments they had suffered through false news he said nothing about it to the rest. Soon it became dark and, keeping to the daily routine, they waited for Alfredo Delgado and Daniel Fernández to prepare the cabin. When they entered and took their places Páez, as usual, prayed the rosary. At the end of the prayer, Daniel Fernández suddenly said: "Gentlemen, I have a strong feeling that our two expeditionaries have made it. We will be rescued tomorrow or the day after". Then Páez added: "I had the same premonition, I felt it this afternoon." A hopeful silence invaded the cabin and everybody slept with a pleasant feeling.
The most anticipated news
On December 22, Daniel Fernández and Eduardo Strauch went out as usual to listen to the 7:30 morning news. They tuned in to an Uruguayan radio station and heard, through the static, that two men claiming to be survivors from the Fairchild plane had been found in a remote valley at Los Maitenes. Eduardo started jumping up and down with excitement but Daniel stopped him and suggested that they not say a word to the others until the news could be confirmed. Daniel was cautious, so as not to repeat the frustration of the previous Sunday when he had listened to the radio and misheard the information. He had told the others that the C-47 plane sent from Uruguay by a group of parents to further search the area had seen the cross they had built with the suitcases. Unfortunately, the report had been referring to another cross, built with measurement equipment, by Argentinean Geo-physicists to determine the amount of water that the arid lands of Mendoza would receive in the summer.
Daniel and Eduardo focused their attention on the radio and suddenly realized that all the radio stations across Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil were heralding the same news, and the radio hams who had helped so intensely during the search were filling the air with remarks on the incredible news.
It was in that moment that they decided to free all their suppressed joy and shouted it out to all their friends. Within seconds everyone was gathered around the radio, jumping with happiness, raising their arms to the sky, thanking God and embracing each another.
The rescue operation which had begun at 6:00 am was delayed due to thick fog at Los Maitenes. Canessa and Parrado had finished breakfast when they heard a crowd approaching the place. Journalists from all over the world had come by taxi to the nearest trail head, and had walked more than an hour to reach the survivors. Canessa and Parrado willingly answered their questions, but they had agreed between the two of them to avoid as best as they could the questions referring to their sustenance in the mountains. By mid-morning the helicopters arrived at Los Maitenes and Parrado volunteered to guide them. The search was difficult but the helicopters finally found the Fairchild and the fourteen survivors at 1:00 pm. The boys, extremely anxious, had heard the engines and saw the helicopters but could not understand why they did not land. No doubt the strong winds and the melting snow prevented the machines from landing. It was a complicated maneuver as the winds were very gusty and the skids, if they touched the ground, could cause an avalanche.
Finally the first helicopter went low enough for a mountaineering specialist and a healthcare worker to jump out. With Parrado´s help Daniel Fernández and Alvaro Mangino climbed into the helicopter first. The other helicopter hovered in the same way, allowing two more mountaineers to descend and rescuing Eduardo Strauch, Carlos Páez, José Luis Inciarte and Pedro Algorta.
Due to the poor weather conditions and the inherent risks, the operations commander decided that Sabella, Delgado, Francois, Methol, Harley, Zerbino, Vizintín and Adolfo Strauch should remain on the mountain with the three mountaining specialists and the healthcare worker until the next day.
When the first group arrived at Los Maitenes, it was an ecstasy of joy. A few hours later, the survivors were taken to St John of God Hospital, at San Fernando. The second group was rescued on Saturday the 23rd and the scene of joy was repeated again at Los Maitenes. Unlike the first group, they were taken first to Cochalgua Regiment and from there were transported to the Health National Service Hospital, where Inciarte and Mangino were also patients.
Beginning on the evening of December 23, those who were in better physical condition gathered at the San Cristóbal Sheraton Hotel in Santiago. Unfortunately Harley, Inciarte, Mangino and Methol remained in the hospital following doctors´recommendations. The arrival of relatives and friends was nonstop and was complemented by a plethora of phone calls from family and friends from Uruguay. Daniel Fernández and Roberto Francois decided to return to Uruguay the next day.
In different passages of the book ALIVE, Piers Paul Read describes the routines of the group and the moods according to the time of the day and the weather conditions. In one paragraph he describes the way in which the sunset influenced the spirits of the group. In another, Read recreates an incident which occurred only four days before the Christmas celebrations were held at the San Cristobal Sheraton Hotel:
“...They would talk together about anything except their homes and their families; but on the evening of December 20, as the two Strauches and Daniel Fernández sat waiting for the cold and the dark, they could not stop themselves from thinking of the Christmases of earlier years that they had all celebrated so beautifully together. The German blood was still strong enough in all three to make the idea of those celebrations going on without them particularly intolerable, and for the first time in many days hot tears began to roll down the cheeks not just of Eduardo and Daniel but of Fito as well.”.