This is your gateway to a wealth of information regarding the Andes Survivors.
Here you will find more information about the story itself, Ricardo Peña’s work with the survivors since 2005 and the current expeditions to the historic site with survivor Eduardo Strauch. You will also find photos of all our past expeditions on the site.
If you want to know more about the crash of the Fairchild 571, one of the world’s greatest survival stories where 16 people endured 72 days trapped on a high glacier in the middle of the Andes without food, proper clothing or any mountain knowledge, read below the story of the Andes Survivors. In this section you will find a brief summary as well as a very detailed account of the story.
On Ricardo Peña’s connection to the Andes Survivors you can read and see photos about his surprising discovery high in the Andes, on February 12, 2005, of survivor Eduardo Strauch’s coat and documents. This discovery would be the beginning of a great friendship between Eduardo and Ricardo with incredible ramifications including, among many, our current expeditions to the site! You can read about Ricardo’s exploratory expeditions to the site including the two National Geographic expeditions he led, one of which was the first one and only to date to repeat the escape across the Andes as done by Fernando Parrado and Roberto Canessa. The second NG expedition page features a previously unpublished article by National Geographic writer James Vlahos.
You will find the only photos that document Nando and Roberto’s expedition as well as photos of all the fascinating discoveries that Ricardo has made in the last 7 years. Also in this section read and see behind the scenes photos of Ricardo’s involvement with several documentaries about the Andes Story including the latest: History Channel’s: I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash. You can watch the documentary here.
On the Andes Survivors Expeditions section you will find all the details to our trips where you can join survivor Eduardo Strauch and Ricardo Peña on an incredible journey to the historic site. There is info on the itinerary, gear, price and sign up details as well as a great video that shows you our whole expedition. In the second section you can find photos from all the previous expeditions with Eduardo. Every expedition has a dedicated page of photos. We invite all past participants to view, share and comment on the photos from these great trips!
The Story of the Andes Survivors
Extensive search and rescue operations were launched and supported by authorities in Uruguay, Chile and Argentina, but after ten days with no results the passengers were presumed dead and the search was called off. Then, 70 days after the crash, two bearded and emaciated boys appeared in Chile, coming on foot out of the Andes and declaring themselves to be passengers of the lost plane. A disbelieving world looked on as the boys led rescuers to discover 14 other survivors from the plane who had lived for over two months on the mountain. Their rescue became an instant media sensation and people from all over the world were aflame to know how they had survived for so long in such a hostile environment. How could such a thing happen?
There were 27 survivors in the initial crash; most were members or supporters of the rugby team which had chartered the plane to fly to Chile for a match. Although they were certain of imminent rescue, the survivors, under the leadership of rugby team captain Marcelo Pérez, organized their efforts over the next few days to clear the plane of debris, melt snow into water to avoid dehydration, and devise ways to keep from freezing to death in the subzero temperatures of the night. They had a small amount of food and wine, and these they rationed severely until rescue would arrive. But no rescue came, and after ten days they heard the news on the small transistor radio they had found in the plane that the search had been called off. Desperate, starving, and with no hope of being saved, the survivors made the difficult decision to eat the bodies of the dead in order to stay alive. With food in their stomachs they were determined to escape on their own, but they still suffered terribly from hunger, cold, sickness, and bad weather. One of the worst moments came on October 29th, when an avalanche hit and filled the plane with snow, killing eight people. One of those eight was Marcelo Pérez, whose death left the group without solid leadership. The void he left was eventually filled by the three Strauch cousins (Eduardo, Fito, and Daniel Fernández), who were trusted and highly respected among the other boys. After the avalanche the remaining survivors were buried alive in the fuselage for three days. Although many of them believed that dying would be easier than going on living, the survivors kept fighting for life and organized expeditions aiming to escape the mountain. Finally, after more than two months on the mountain, two of the boys, Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa, climbed across the Andes on a heroic ten day journey to civilization and sent help for the rest of the survivors. After spending 72 days on the mountain and enduring unimaginable hardships against all odds, 16 boys were brought home alive. This event quickly became one of the most famous and enduring stories of survival ever told, and the details of what they went through in those 72 days still captivate and inspire the world today.
Now, through Alpine Expeditions, Eduardo Strauch and Ricardo Peña organize yearly trips to the site of the crash, uniting people all over the world through this incredible experience and through the deep friendship which they share.
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.
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.
The book ALIVE by Piers Paul Read is the most truthful document about the Andes odyssey. Read completed the book in 1973, only one year after the accident, and based it on the testimonies – still very recent – given by the 16 survivors.
The author focused on the role played by what he called “The Strauch Triumvirate” formed by Adolfo (Fito), Eduardo and Daniel, who assumed the group leadership after the death of Marcelo Pérez in the avalanche. Marcelo had been the Old Christians’ rugby team captain and had, consequently, been the natural leader of the group.
The following paragraphs from the book ALIVE, chosen at random, clearly reflect the importance of the triumvirate in the “new society” of finding their way out of the Andes:
“The three who were the government of this little community, Eduardo and Fito Strauch and Daniel Fernández, were not as individuals so different from the others. They dominated the group by virtue of the strength they brought to one another”.
“Eduardo Strauch, although nicknamed “the German”, was in most ways less German than his two cousins. In appearance he took after his mother, an Urioste, having a smaller frame than Fito. His demeanor was attractive and his manner personable. He was the most urbane of the nineteen, perhaps because he had traveled in Europe, and had the most open mind. In general he was calm, but he was capable of passionate anger”.
“The expeditionaries were not the leaders of the group but a caste apart, separated from the others by their privileges and preoccupations. They might have evolved into an oligarchy had not their powers been checked by the triumvirate of the Strauch cousins. Of all the subgroups of friends and relatives that had existed before the avalanche, theirs was the only one to survive intact”.
“The system which was evolved worked well. As in the Constitution of the United States, there were checks and balances. The Strauch cousins with their auxiliaries limited the power of the expeditionaries, and the expeditionaries limited the power of the Strauches. Both groups respected one another, and both acted with the tacit consent of all nineteen”.
“The closeness of the relationship between Fito Strauch, Eduardo Strauch and Daniel Fernández gave them an immediate advantage over all the others in withstanding not only the physical but also the mental suffering caused by their isolation”.
“Of all the work that had to be done, cutting meat off the bodies of their dead friends was the most difficult and unpleasant, and this was done by Fito, Eduardo and Daniel Fernández…”.
“The meat was strictly rationed, and this again was done by the two Strauches and Daniel Fernández. The basic ration which was given out at midday was a small handful, perhaps half a pound, but it was agreed that those who worked could have more, because they used up energy through their exertions, and that the expeditionaries could have almost as much as they liked…”.
“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”.
These paragraphs are quoted from the book ALIVE by Piers Paul Read, published in 1974. It has been translated into many languages and has been reprinted many times in the intervening years.
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.
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.”.
The other society
Returning to Uruguay did not just mean the happiness of meeting again with their family and friends; the survivors also had to explain to society, and in particular to the parents and relatives of their dead friends, what had really happened up on the mountain. The new society that had been created in the Cordillera now had to merge together with “the other” dominant society, the one they had known until seventy-two days before.
When the news spread that there were survivors from the Fairchild, the hopes of relatives and friends were reborn; even those who had been more skeptical were perplexed. When the list of survivors was released, some of the families were immensely happy and others remained in deep sorrow. This divisional line of feelings opened a breach among them which deepened when the survivors confirmed that they had fed themselves with the bodies of the dead, a subject that was presented in its real depth upon the return of the group to Montevideo.
The parents and relatives who were sustained by faith, intuition, or an unbreakable hope had continued the search, even when it seemed absurd, and now, they had their reward. Even those who did not find their sons on the list of survivors had the consolation of having fought until the end and having explored all possibilities.
After Christmas in Chile, the main part of the group had improved their physical condition and they agreed with their families that it was time to return to Montevideo and to prevent any news from spreading around out of context, as had happened in the most well known Chilean newspaper.
On December 28 (ironically, the Holy Innocent’s feast in the Catholic Calendar) the group traveled to Montevideo without Harley, who needed more rehabilitation days, and without Parrado and Algorta, who stayed in Santiago, Chile, hosted by some friends. As soon as the plane landed, all the passengers spontaneously sang the Uruguayan National Hymn. The great crowd that was expecting them at the Carrasco airport confirmed for them what their heroic achievement had meant for their country. To avoid being pursued by the media at the airport, it was decided that after greeting their families the survivors would be taken directly to the Stella Maris College (“the Christian”) to hold a press conference. Shortly before 9:00 pm, they gathered on the great stage that had been built in the school gymnasium and were greeted with sustained applause and cheering from the present public. When the conference started there was an expectant silence and the public followed with rapt attention the stories that, one by one, the survivors told about their experiences. Each of them reflected on different moments of their collective experience. There is no doubt that the press, as well as the audience and the whole country, were focused on finally knowing how the boys had sustained themselves for such a long time. Up to that moment, apart from the Chilean newspaper, some other sensationalist media from different countries had alluded to the subject of anthropophagy and the rumors had made a strong impact in Uruguayan society, especially within the survivors’ nearest circles.
On one side, there were those who supported the decision the boys had made in order to survive, and on the other side there were people who adopted a critical or condemnatory attitude. There were cases, in Montevideo in particular, in which the anthropophagic subject was taboo. Many people avoided it or ignored it, as if by not acknowledging the subject it ceased to exist. No doubt, when such an important subject is taken out of context, our culture can consider it a morally reproachable action, but in fact nobody can interpret it nor judge it without considering the limited situation in which it happened. The religious education received at the Stella Maris College allowed these young men to make parallels between the meaning of Communion and the decision they thought they naturally had to take.
An explanation of the aspects they took into account when making the decision was left for the end of the press conference, and it was Alfredo Delgado who assumed the role of representative of the group. No doubt, the contact with Father Andrés in Chile had been very important to them. He had given them peace of mind by explaining that anthropophagy “in extremis” was not condemned by the Church, confirming for them in that way that they had not committed any sin, either religiously or morally.
Words spoken by Alfredo Delgado:
“When one awakes in the morning and sees the snow capped peaks all around, it is very impressive. The silence in the Cordillera is majestic, sensational. It is something frightening to feel alone in the world… and I can assure you that God is there. We all had that feeling inside ourselves, for we were not the kind of pious youths who were always praying rosaries, at least in the ritual aspect, but we had a religious education. Up there, one feels the presence of God. One feels, above all, what is called the hand of God, and allows oneself to be guided by it… And then the moment came when we had recovered our spirits enough to go out in expedition and we did not have any more food, or anything of the kind. On the sixteenth day, the avalanche came and killed our best friends. We really think that the ones who died… God took them with him because they were better than us, because every one of our friends who died taught us something. An example of courage…of all the values that can be mentioned. I think that to put it in words is to diminish the real dimension of all that happened. We all have it inside our hearts, and to mention specific acts of courage and of greatness would reduce the significance of the whole. So I prefer not to mention them, but I wanted to make the point clear. Then, the moment came when we had nothing to eat and we thought that if Jesus at His last Supper had shared His flesh and blood with His Apostles, then it was a sign to us that we should do the same. We took this, the flesh and blood, and that was an intimate communion between us all. It was this that helped us to survive, and now we do not want this – which was for us something very intimate – to be misunderstood or twisted or anything like that. That is why, in other countries, we tried to approach the subject in as elevated a spirit as possible, and now we tell it to you, our fellow countrymen, exactly as it was. But it must be interpreted and taken in its real dimension, and you have to think how great those boys were…”
Alfredo Delgado´s words moved the whole audience so deeply that, when asked if anybody else wanted to ask a question, the public and the press representatives unanimously answered that they had none and the conference ended with effusive applause and a standing ovation.
Testimonies full of humanity and greatness
EL PAIS, Montevideo’s newspaper, December 29, 1972
Moving words spoken by Dr. Valeta, the father of one of the dead boys
Several relatives of the boys who died in the Andes were present at the press conference held at the Stella Maris Christian Brothers school. “We share what they did”, said Dr. Helios Valeta, referring to the words spoken by Delgado. “We are happy that there were 45 of them, because this helped at least 16 of them to return,” he said. “All the parents that are in my situation understand these boys.”
… In this way, with that heroic resignation, with that profound human gesture, the father of one of the boys who had died in the tragic episode accepted “absolutely all of the actions” of the 16 survivors who were able to defeat death. Some minutes before, Delgado had described the most dramatic moments that the victims had faced in order to survive. In front of them, sitting with his wife and daughters, was this human being who, with his very presence was giving his approval – maybe the only one that really mattered – for what the courageous rescued boys had done.
“I came with my family because we wanted to see all those who were the friends of my son and because we are sincerely happy to have them back among us. What is more, we are glad that there were forty-five of them, because this helped at least sixteen to return”.
“I would like to say, furthermore, that I knew from the very first moment what has been confirmed today. As a doctor I understood at once that no one could have survived in such a place and under such conditions without resorting to courageous decisions. Now that I have confirmation of what has happened, I repeat: Thank God that the 45 were there, for 16 homes have regained their children”.
After that, reaffirming every syllable of his thoughts, as if trying to eliminate every doubt about the sincerity of his words, he added:
“I cannot speak for the other parents that are in the same situation as me, but I positively know that all of them think in the same way, we are in complete agreement with what the boys did and we admire the courage they showed in overcoming death.”
“The courage and loyalty of them all, and especially Delgado, who faced this press conference to tell the real story, moved me deeply. The beautiful way in which he explained it was the best homage.”
Referring afterwards to his son’s death, Dr. Valeta said:
“Since the very first moment my wife, my daughters and I had a feeling of resignation. Inexplicably, I had a kind of certainty that my son had died in the accident. Now that his friends told us how it occurred, I have confirmed it. It is better in this way, at least now I know that he did not suffer in agony.”
At last, he criticized certain press,
“who had attacked these boys with low words and veiled reproaches. Today, I publicly challenge the representatives of those in the media to go through a similar experience. I believe the most correct attitude, the only one that fits, is for the whole press to have a merciful attitude towards these young men. We have nothing to reproach them with.”
LA MAÑANA, Montevideo´s newspaper, January 2nd, 1973
Moving tribute from a father to the Andes heroes
The letter is, for its spiritual content and for the avowal of faith it implies, evident proof that human values are something that nothing nor anybody will ever be able to defeat.
The letter was written by Arturo Nogueira and his family, whose son, named Arturo after him, was one of the young students that remained forever under the snow of the Andes, after the horrible tragedy of the Uruguayan Air Force “Fairchild”. With an invaluable spiritual greatness, these people, overcoming the loss of their beloved son, publicly stated their admiration for the sixteen young heroes who survived the disaster, and the whole letter is, as we have already said, a marvelous message of faith in the human condition.
The following is the complete text for the readers to evaluate for themselves what to us appears as something beyond praise. These are the words:
To the Editor,
I am ask you to publish the following letter in your newspaper:
In these few words, written in obedience to what is in our hearts, we wish to pay public homage, in admiration and recognition of the sixteen heroes who survived the tragedy of the Andes.
Admiration, because this is what we feel in the face of their many displays of solidarity, faith, courage and serenity, and the many obstacles which they had to face and which they overcame.
We offer recognition, profound and forever, because of the care they gave in every moment to our dear son and brother, Arturo, up to the time of his death many days after the accident.
We invite every citizen of our country to spend some minutes in meditation of the immense lesson of solidarity, courage, and discipline which has been left to us by these boys in the hope that it will serve us all to overcome our mean selfishness, excessive ambitions and our lack of interest in our brothers.
A final acknowledgement to the Stella Maris College, whose Brothers and Teachers have formed so many generations of students, sportsmen and essentially MEN of our country.
Our best wishes to the Editor thanking him in advance for the publication of this letter.
ARTURO NOGUEIRA AND FAMILY.
“The words spoken by Dr. Valeta and the letter from the Nogueira family moved me deeply and gave me great peace.
The return to Uruguay was not easy and although it may seem madness, as days went by, there were moments when I longed for the silence and the unpolluted environment of the Cordillera, the place that had allowed me to meditate for the first time in my life.
In spite of the many demonstrations of affection from my family and friends, I felt that nobody could fully understand the experience I had gone through, but with time I was able to imagine myself in their place and I understood that I would have been like them.
Fortunately, after thirty years, another gesture of humanity and greatness allowed me to fill in the empty place that the death of my great friend had left in me and to close a chapter of the Andes odyssey that had remained unfinished.”
The new society and “the other” society
The re-adaptation to society (“the other”) was not an easy task. In the Cordillera, by necessity, the group had been forced to strengthen the values learned in family and at school, and to incorporate others according to the extreme circumstances of survival. The new society that had developed in the mountains had generated a new code, based on what each of them could or should give for the support of the whole group and with the aim of finding a way out.
Respect, organization, work division based on attitudes or abilities, team work, solidarity, faith, discipline and affection, were the survivors´ true support. These values started naturally appearing as days passed, because when they had taken the plane in Montevideo on October 13, no one had carried Administration or Organization handbooks onboard with them.
If there was a miracle in this story, it was the revelation each one had to discover that they were capable of doing and to find within themselves the determination to defend the most precious gift: life.
The return to Uruguay meant the challenge of making those two societies compatible: the new one and the old one.
For those who came back from the Cordillera, the time that had passed since October and December of 1972 seemed like a century. For relatives and friends, it was counted as two months and a little more. No doubt, these were two different dimensions; so different, yet both had the predominant and necessary values to live in each respective society.