Little Bits of History

Survivor, The Real Story

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 23, 2013
Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash

Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash

December 23, 1972: Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 concludes. The Fairchild FH-227D twin turboprop plane was carrying the Stella Maris College rugby team, the Old Christians. The plane left the Carrasco International Airport (Cuidad, Uruguay) on October 12. Bad weather forced an overnight stop in Mendoza, Argentina. The plane was not able to fly at altitudes greater than 29,500 feet and so could not fly a straight path to Santiago, Chile over the Andes Mountains. Because of fog, the pilot misjudged his position and was not clear of the mountain range as he began to alter course.

Unable to see clearly in the cloud cover, the plane clipped a mountain top at 13,800 feet which severed the right wing. The wing blew backwards and removed the tail stabilizer. A second peak removed the left wing. The fuselage, with gaping holes already present, impacted a mountain and slid down the slope before being stopped by a snow bank. Of the 45 people aboard, 12 died in the crash. By morning, another 5 people were dead. Many of those who survived were injured.

The survivors were faced with harsh weather and lacked the appropriate clothing or footwear. Two of the rugby players were medical students. They treated the injured with makeshift supplies. Searches were launched from 3 countries but the white plane blended in with the snow. The searches were cancelled after 8 days and on that same day, another victim died of injuries. A transistor radio on the plane worked and the survivors heard the search was called off. They knew they had to effect their own rescue. Food and water became an issue soon after the crash. In a move of direst necessity, the survivors turned to cannibalism.

Eight more young people died in an avalanche on October 29. On December 12, after preparing as best as the meager resources allowed, three men set off in search of help. What they found was mountains and more mountains. Two men kept hiking for days (the other returned to the crash site). They followed a river and began to see signs of humans. Nearly exhausted to death, they saw a man on horseback. They now had help and finally got word out to the police, calling for aid. Helicopters were dispatched and were led back to the crash site. On December 22, half of the survivors were taken out, with rescue crews staying behind. On this day, the rest of the survivors left the mountain. Sixteen people had survived.

“‘Hey boys,’ Gustavo [Coco] Nicolich shouted, ‘there’s some good news! We just heard on the radio. They’ve called off the search.’ Inside the crowded plane there was silence. As the hopelessness of their predicament enveloped them, they wept. ‘Why the hell is that good news?’ Paez shouted angrily at Nicolich. ‘Because it means,’ [Nicolich] said, ‘that we’re going to get out of here on our own.’ The courage of this one boy prevented a flood of total despair.” –  Piers Paul Read

“At high altitude, the body’s caloric needs are astronomical … we were starving in earnest, with no hope of finding food, but our hunger soon grew so voracious that we searched anyway … again and again we scoured the fuselage in search of crumbs and morsels.” – Nando Parrado

“We decided that this book should be written and the truth known because of the many rumors about what happened in the cordillera.” – Piers Paul Read

“In fact, our survival had become a matter of national pride. Our ordeal was being celebrated as a glorious adventure… I didn’t know how to explain to them that there was no glory in those mountains. It was all ugliness and fear and desperation, and the obscenity of watching so many innocent people die.” – Nando Parrado

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: When the survivors were brought off the mountain, they originally stuck by a tale of living off cheese they had with them. They wished to first speak with their families but they were pushed into the public eye. After it was all over, a priest accompanied the rescuers and buried the bodies of the deceased about 250 feet away from the crash site. Eventually, the survivors participated in the making of two books, two films, and a website. Piers Paul Read had interviewed the survivors and their families and was the first to come out with a book on the catastrophe. Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors came out two years after the rescue. Nando Parrado, one of the young men on the mountain, wrote a book 34 years later called Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home. There have been a total of six movies or television productions about the crash and survival, not all of them with actual survivor participation.

Also on this day: Jolly Old Elf – In 1823, Twas the Night Before Christmas was first published.
Tokyo Tower – In 1958, Tokyo Tower was dedicated.
Around the World in Nine Days – In 1986, the Voyager landed at Edwards Air Force Base completing a non-stop trip around the world.