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The Andes Crash: Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

The Andes Crash: Uruguayan Air Force Flight

Actual crash Image by Wikipedia

The famous Andes crash would be another unforgettable tragedy in the history of aviation, the one which became one of the popular subjects on any story concerning human survival. The accident became the basis of the famous 1974 book “Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors” written by Piers Paul Read which was put to film in 1993 under the title “Alive” directed by Frank Marshall. The tragedy occurred the 13th of October 1972, a Friday when an Uruguayan Air Force Fairchild FH-227, a stretched version of the original Fokker F27 built by Fairchild Hiller under license from Fokker of Holland was chartered by a team of Uruguayan rugby players on a scheduled friendly match in Santiago, Chile. Prompted by bad weather, instead of taking a shorter route by a high altitude descent up the Andes (mountain range separating Argentina and Chile) to Santiago directly from Uruguay which would be stressful to the aircraft, the pilots took a longer flight route by taking a low pass on the farther end of the Andes known as Planchon Pass near Curico, Chile. Poor visibility and pilot error caused the pilot to make a turn into the Andes thinking they already cleared the mountain range thus colliding with the face of the mountain 20 minutes before landing in Santiago, Chile.

The Quest for Survival

Out of the 40 passengers and 5 crew aboard the aircraft, the separation of the fuselage into two after the impact caused the immediate death of 5 and an unaccounted 7 missing leaving 33 alive. The survivors were however trapped in a wilderness of towering mountain peaks covered by ice in all directions. The broken part of the fuselage couldn't even protect them from the freezing temperature leaving them at the mercy of the elements without supply of food and water. Nando Parrado, the key survivor whose determination was instrumental to the rescue of the rest of the survivors was assumed dead while in coma owing to head injury brought by the impact of the crash. He was set aside near the opening of the fuselage but miraculously regained consciousness 3 days later. Having learned his mother who was also on the plane died, he focused on his injured sister who remained clinging to life until she died in his arms. With the difficulty of food shortage and the issue of dying members each day owing to the freezing temperature, the survivors resorted to consuming flesh from their dead friends (anthropophagy) in order to survive. An avalanche took more of the survivors causing the death of 8 more while covering the whole fuselage where the survivors took refuge. Finally by the 12th of December 1972, Nando Parrado, Roberto Canessa and Antonio Vizintin after nearly two months following the tragedy decided to leave the comfort of the fuselage while the weather seemed favorable. After a slow advance on foot travelling through icy peaks that took them some 37 miles in 8 days with makeshift equipments to survive the cold and treacherous terrain, (Antonio returned to the fuselage before Nando insisted to push the journey where it would take them which Roberto agreed upon) the two caught sight of a man on the horse, Chilean Sergio Catalan who alerted the rescue of the two a day after (21 December 1972).

Parrado and Canessa as found by Chilean Sergio Catalan (courtesy by wikipedia)

The Miraculous Rescue

By 22 December 1972, Nando Parrado went with two rescue helicopters to lead them to the crash site where 6 out of the 14 survivors left were rescued. The pilots confirmed that owing to the snow and the white fuselage of what remained of the aircraft, it was impossible to spot the site until they were closer at about 300 yards the reason why even the area was previously covered by the search and rescue, it was not found. The rescue team returned for the remaining 8 survivors on 23 December 1972 making a complete count of those who survived to 16 out of the original 45 passengers.

The Influence of the Number 13

While most people strongly believe that the number 13 brings bad luck, truth or coincidence, the crash occurred on a Friday the 13th added by the influence of the flight number assigned to the flight itself (Flight 571). Adding up 5, 7 and 1 totals to 13.

References:

History Channel: Surviving the Andes Crash

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruguayan_Air_Force_Flight_571

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Comments (8)

They were really lucky anyone even survived the crash in the first place. I remember the crash but never realized there was an avalanch too.

Thanks for the comment, Brenda.

You have penned this article well. thank you.

Well written!

Excellent, informative, and well composed article. Thanks Sir

Informative article on this Andes crash.

I saw the movie of this tragedy. Such an unfortunate incident.

Dugg, or is it Digged

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