Tragedy of the Andes, 48 ​​years after the Christmas miracle that shook the world

With the arrival of COVID-19, now guarding life has become a global task; But on Friday, October 13, 1972, the Uruguayan passengers of the Fairchild F-227 plane knew that they had to unite their hopes to dedicate themselves to the task of protecting themselves from hunger and cold until someone rescued them: they were the survivors of a plane crash and they were in the Andes mountain range at more than 3,500 meters above sea level. m.

The flight – scheduled from Montevideo, Uruguay, bound for Santiago de Chile – was carrying 5 crew members and 40 passengers, including players from the Old Christians rugby club and relatives. Upon impact against a cliff, 11 people died instantly and 18 died the following days from injuries and an avalanche of snow. A total of 16 young people would then be the ones who would fight to stand on stage in extreme conditions.

The collision occurred after a snow storm forced the pilot to descend at the Argentine airport El Plumerillo, in the city of Mendoza, to continue with the trip later. But within an hour of the second takeoff, a wing hit a mountain and the plane’s tail detached. After ten days of exhaustive search, the passengers were presumed dead.

The 16 survivors took refuge in what was left of the fuselage and learned through the plane’s radio that rescue activities had ceased. A week later, the little food had run out and there was only one option left: cannibalism; that is, the consumption of human flesh.

In an interview for La Nación, Carlos Páez Rodríguez, one of the 16, narrated that the group made a deal in the same way that it would on the playing field: “We made a pact that if any of us died, it would be available of the group, for the subsistence of the others ”.

The failed exploration attempts ran to the rhythm of the freezing nights until December 12 Fernando Parrado, Roberto Canessa and Antonio Vizintín began a walk west. They used overlapping garments and improvised sleeping bags from the lining of the plane’s air conditioning. After three days without results, Vizintín decided to return with the group and the other two young people continued with the journey.

Fernando and Roberto walked for several days until they found a valley on December 22, 10 days after they started the march. In this place they saw some men who were taking care of some sheep, but the noise of the water made it difficult for them to be heard; furthermore, they were so weak that yelling was an almost impossible task.

So one of the shepherds, Sergio Catalán, later known as ‘El arriero de los Andes’, He took a bottle, inserted a pencil and paper, and threw them at him to find out who they were. Fernando wrote a message with what little strength he had left: “I come from a plane that fell in the mountains. I am Uruguayan. We have been walking for 10 days. I have a friend wound up. There are 14 injured persons on the airplane. We have to get out of here fast and we don’t know how. We have no food. We are weak. When are they going to look us upstairs? Please, we can’t even walk. Where we are?”

“At first I thought they were people who were touring, or that they were hunters …”, Sergio later told the press. He threw four loaves at them and beckoned to them that he would return. It was thus that, together with his son Juan de la Cruz, he rode about 100 kilometers until he reached a place called Puente Negro, where the troops were incredulous until they saw the note.

On Saturday, December 23, 72 days after the accident, the survivors were rescued in the immensity of the mountain range.

After the rescue, 13 of the 16 survivors spent Christmas in Santiago de Chile. Carlos Páez Rodríguez commented to La Nación that the meeting with his family was the most emotional: “It was at the Sheraton where we were with our families. It was very exciting since we had made it our goal to reach civilization before Christmas. ” For his part, Sergio Catalán Rodríguez, the savior of the group, received the gratitude and visits of the young people until his death in 2020.