‘Living’ survivors remember struggle for survival after plane crash in Andes that forced them into cannibalism
The survivors forced to resort to cannibalism after their plane crashed over the Andes in 1972 have reunited to retell their story in Uruguay.
The 16 survivors of Uruguayan Flight 571, which would bring a team of amateur rugby players and their supporters to Chile, gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their horrific ordeal remembered as the Miracle in the Andes.
Their story was immortalized in the best-selling book, Alive: The Story of the Andean Survivors, by Piers Paul Read, which was later made into a movie in 1993, with a new Netflix adaptation in the works.
Carlos Paez told the Sunday Times in London that it was the duty of the survivors to travel the world and share their story of the 72 days they spent in the frigid mountains, forced to eat the corpses of their friends .
“I’ve traveled six million miles on American Airlines,” he said, pointing to his lack of fear of flying. “I’m doomed to tell this story forever, just like the Beatles always had to sing yesterday.”
Roberto Canessa (above), a medical student, suggested his fellow survivors eat the 29 other people who died in the harrowing Miracle in the Andean Incident. All survivors are reunited for the event’s 50th anniversary
Pictured: The survivors waiting to be rescued after spending 72 grueling days in the frigid Andes, where they were forced to eat their fallen loved ones to survive
Uruguay’s president, Luis Lacalle Pou (left), spoke with Andean tragedy survivors Fernando Parrado (center) and Carlos Paez (right) before a friendly rugby match. The men were part of the amateur rugby team aboard the ill-fated flight
Paez (above) said it was the survivors’ duty to travel the world and share their story, which has been turned into a book and movie, with an upcoming Netflix adaptation
Pictured: The last eight survivors huddled for warmth as they awaited the second wave of a delicate rescue attempt from the unstable mountains
Canessa, pictured grieving for those who died 50 years ago in the tragedy, said the survivors had all made a pact that if they died from exposure, the rest were obligated to eat them to live
When the group lost all hope of survival, Canessa (above) climbed three miles down the mountain with Parrado to seek help. They encountered a lone Chilean shepherd who drove 100 miles to alert authorities to the survivors
Forty-five people boarded the ill-fated plane on October 13, 1972, including Montevideo’s Old Christians Club rugby team and its supporters.
During the flight, authorities said the pilot drifted off course in a thick fog before crashing into the snowy Andes mountains.
Twelve of the passengers died in the crash, and 17 others died from injuries and suffocation from an avalanche that occurred days later.
Ramon Sabella, 70, a successful businessman, noted that he was holding one of the dying passengers in his arms as she passed by.
After 10 days, the survivors heard from an onboard radio that the search for them had been called off.
He recalled the grueling choice the 16 survivors made when Roberto Canessa, a medical student, suggested eating the deceased’s bodies so the rest of them could survive.
“Of course the idea of eating human flesh was horrible, repulsive,” Sabella told the Times. “It was hard to put in your mouth. But we’ve gotten used to it.’
He said, “In a way, our friends were some of the first organ donors in the world — they helped feed us and kept us alive.”
Paez said there was no other option for the young survivors, noting for the morbidly curious that human flesh “really doesn’t taste like anything.”
Canessa, who shared his story with DailyMail.com in 2016, said the decision they made was especially grueling because the bodies belonged to their teammates and friends.
“My only problem was that these were my friends’ bodies,” he said. “I had to go to their family later to explain it.”
Canessa, who used glass to cut the meat, said he found some solace in knowing that it would be all right if the others had used his body to feed them if he had died instead.
Sabella noted that the sentiment was shared by the other survivors, who made a pact that those who lived could eat those who died as a result of the exposure.
“We have promised each other that if one of us dies, the others are obliged to eat their bodies,” he said.
Paez said for the young survivors there was no option but cannibalism, noting for the morbidly curious that human flesh “really doesn’t taste like anything.”
While only 17 of the 45 died in the plane crash, the rest died of injuries and a subsequent avalanche in the snowy mountains
After 10 days, the survivors heard from an onboard radio that the search for them had been called off
Pictured: Antonio Vizitin, a plane crash survivor, attends the anniversary Mass
Pictured: Survivor Gustavo Zerbino tears apart during Mass
Also present at the ceremony was Ron Harley (pictured)
After nearly two months in the mountains, the survivors had lost all hope of rescue, so Canessa and Fernando Parrado decided to seek help.
The duo filled their rugby socks with human flesh and slowly climbed about three miles down the mountain, exhausting the ten-day journey.
When they encountered a raging river that halted their search for help, Canessa and Parrado on the other side saw a Chilean shepherd who couldn’t hear them across the water.
The shepherd returned the next day and threw a rock with pen and pencil at the survivors, who explained the situation to him.
The shepherd ascended 100 miles to alert the authorities of the survivors.
A multi-day helicopter rescue operation was soon launched, rescuing the rest of the survivors, many of whom had lost half their body weight.
“They took us to the hospital in Santiago,” Sabella told the Times. “I remember the joy of that first warm bath.”