I’ve always had somewhat of an odd relationship
with planes and flying. I love flying — the part in the
air, at least, the security not so much — but it also terrifies me. The latter, at least, is a feeling I’d imagine
a lot of people share. Nobody wants to think about all the things
that could go wrong on a plane — the worst of which, of course, would be the plane crashing. But the human will is strong. This is the story of a plane crash that left
survivors in a difficult situation — either die on the mountain they were stranded on,
or resort to one of humanity’s oldest taboos. This is the story of Uruguayan Air Force Flight
571. [airplane noises] Flight 571 was chartered by Uruguay’s Old
Christians Club. The amateur rugby team was headed to Santiago,
Chile to play in a match against one of their big rivals, Old Grangonian. According to alpineexpeditions.net, the trip
spanned about 1,500 kilometers (or around 311 miles) and was supposed to take around four hours. Friends and family members were
also brought on board to pay for the cost of the plane. Altogether, the plane ended up with 40 passengers. There are a couple more things I feel like I should
point out before we move on. The first is just how young most of these passengers
were. The rugby team was affiliated with a local high school,
and most of the members were in their late teens or early twenties. A few were med school students. The oldest passengers were a married couple,
Javier and Liliana Methol. Javier was a part time coach for the team. At the time of the crash, Liliana was 35 and Javier was 36 — still not very old at all. I believe the school the rugby team was affiliated
with was Stella Maris College, which was a Catholic school where many of the team members attended. Being American, I’m assuming South America
uses the term “college” to refer to what we would know of as “high school.” The second thing I want to bring up is related to this a little bit, which is that all or at least most of the passengers were Catholic, which will become important later. The plane took off from Montevideo, Uruguay,
on October 12, 1972 with 40 passengers and five crew members. But what was supposed to be a four hour trip went wrong pretty quickly. Due to bad weather, the plane had to make an
overnight stop in Mendoza, Argentina. At first, the passengers were annoyed at this
unplanned layover because it meant they would get to spend less time in Chile, and because they didn’t think
the weather was that bad. But once they got to Mendoza, they decided to make the most of it and went out to explore the city. At some point in the night, some of the team members met a girl. I don’t know exactly how old she was or much else about her, but apparently they hung out with her that night. And at some point during the night, she made a joke about how their plane would crash the next day because
it would be Friday the 13th. But this was just a joke; nobody took her seriously. The plane left Mendoza around 2:18 pm on Friday,
October 13. Just over an hour after takeoff, the pilot
mistakenly thought they had reached the Chilean city of Curicó and prepared the plane for
landing. They were actually about 70 miles away from
Curicó, close to the Chilean border but still in the remote mountains of western Argentina. At about 3:30 pm, the plane’s right wing
struck a mountain. The right wing, then the left wing then the tail
were ripped off before the plane stopped on the mountain. It continued to skid for about 5,000 feet
until it came to a halt about 11,500 feet up. Years later, a survivor named Gustavo Zerbino would
say the following about the crash: Of the 45 people on board, 12 died in the
crash, leaving the rest stranded on the remote, snowy mountain. And for the survivors, the real terror was just
beginning. At first, survivors thought they would be rescued
within a few hours, maybe a day. But one day turned into two, then three, then
a week. Gustavo Zerbino, who was a med school student, tried to tend to the wounds of the injured passengers, with the help
of another med school student, 19-year-old Roberto Canessa. But they couldn’t save everyone. On their first night of being stranded, five
more people died, and at least one more died over the next few days. There were other early setbacks too. The cockpit had been crushed in the crash. They found the co-pilot in the debris, barely alive. He tried to tell them how to use the plane’s
radio but could barely get the words out. I didn’t find anything about him
after this, and he was close to death at this point, so I assume he died pretty soon after this. Four days after the crash, two planes flew
overhead. The survivors tried to get their attention
by waving their arms, but ultimately failed. They knew there had to be searches going on,
but weren’t sure if rescuers would be able to find them. Still, they did their best to make it with
what they had. At first, they stayed inside the plane’s
fuselage for warmth and subsisted on the plane’s meager food supply, which consisted mostly
of chocolate and wine and lasted about a week, maybe eight days at the most. They tried to eat the leather from their suitcases,
as well as shoes, wood and hair gel, but all of these things proved to be inedible. Still, many survivors stepped up and tried
to make things easier for everyone in some pretty creative ways. They made knives out of plastic from the plane’s
windows. Seat cushions were converted into snowshoes
and sunglasses to shield their eyes were crafted from a sun visor, wire and a bra. They also tried to write ‘SOS’ in lipstick
on the fuselage roof but ended up not having enough lipstick. On a somewhat related note, only five of the passengers were female. There was also the issue of water. The human body needs even more hydration than usual in high altitudes. They were surrounded by frozen water in the
form of snow, but eating the snow actually increased their chances for hypothermia. So a survivor took aluminum sheets from the
back part of the seats and held them up to the sun. This melted the snow so people could drink it. Like I said earlier, most of the plane’s passengers
were Catholic. An 18-year-old survivor named Carlos Paez led them
in a nightly rosary in the plane’s fuselage. They were clearly making the most of their
situation, doing what they could to survive, but there would be more than one setback in
the weeks to come. Meanwhile, several searches were being conducted
for the missing plane. At least three separate countries led their
own searches, and the Chilean Air Rescue Service held one as well. But it didn’t take long for them to
lose hope. The plane was 70 miles off course when it
crashed, and searchers quickly realized they were looking in all the wrong locations. They also realized it would be difficult for them to
spot the white plane in the white snow. Most sources I read said the search was called
off after eight days. Since there were multiple searches mentioned,
I’m not sure which one was called off and another source said three countries
called off their searches at this time. But at least one search did continue
on the ground, and a psychic was brought in to help, recruited by some of the parents of the plane’s passengers. From everything I’ve read, the most tenacious
searcher was Carlos Paez’s father, a well-known Chilean artist named Paez Vilaro. Vilaro went to villages in Chile asking people
if they’d seen signs of a plane crash, and offering a cash reward for information. People thought he was crazy, continuing
to search for the people who they were sure were dead. But he never gave up. On October 23, ten days after the crash
the survivors heard a radio broadcast that said the search (whichever one it was) had
been called off. At first, they were angry, but quickly realized
they would have to take action themselves if they wanted to survive. One survivor you’ll be hearing a lot about
is then-22-year-old Nando Parrado. Parrado’s mother and sister had been on
the plane with him. His mother died in the crash, and Parrado
got a head injury in the ensuing chaos and almost died himself. After the crash, someone thought to lay his head on a block of ice, which ultimately saved his life. He regained consciousness three days after
the crash, but his sister, Suzy, later died in his arms. When Parrado heard the radio broadcast, he
was sure they were all going to die on the mountain. But if that was going to happen, he wanted
to go out fighting. It’s not 100 % clear who brought up the
topic of cannibalism first. Different sources have named different people — one said it was Nando Parrado, another said it was Roberto Canessa, and another said it was another survivor whose name, unfortunately, I can’t remember. It’s also not clear when it was brought
up — some sources say it was before this radio broadcast, some say it was because of the radio broadcast, and some say it was afterwards and not related. But one thing that seems to be clear no matter
what source you read is that at least some survivors were entertaining this thought from pretty early
on. Remember, their food supply ran out pretty early — eight days at the most. And whoever did end up bringing it up, the other passengers seemed to be relieved that at least some of them were on the same page. At some point, Nando Parrado thought back to the
plane’s pilot and co-pilot, who were already dead. He turned to one of his teammates and told
him that he wanted to eat the pilot. Roberto Canessa later said this about the
first time the team decided to eat human flesh: He would also refer to the decision as “our
final goodbye to innocence.” The survivors started with the bodies of the
pilot and co-pilot since they didn’t know them very well. Nando Parrado later said that when he
ate human flesh, it had no taste. Carlos Paez said it had “roughly the same
flavor” as steak tartare. Gustavo Zerbino said human flesh tasted just
like other meat but slightly sweeter. But not everyone was immediately on board
with the idea. The Methols, Javier and Liliana, were initially
reluctant but ultimately partook in the cannibalism. Javier convinced himself to do it for the
couple’s four children, who he believed God wanted him to see again. Liliana was told to see it as somewhat of
a Holy Communion. Another woman died 60 days after the crash,
I believe because she couldn’t bring herself to continue eating human flesh and starved
to death. But Nando Parrado always defended this
decision. He says the survivors made a pact to “donate”
their bodies. He would go on to say: “If I die please use my body so at least
one of us can get out of here and tell our families how much we love them.” Carlos Paez also said he never felt guilty
for engaging in cannibalism because he would have died otherwise. He was also able to convince some of the other survivors to eat human flesh because it had proteins they needed. All of the survivors ended up eating flesh at least once, and would later pass around a tube of toothpaste for “dessert.” But even with their newfound food source,
the setbacks continued. On October 29, an avalanche tumbled down the
mountain and hit the fuselage. Eight more people were killed in this avalanche. Among the casualties were team captain Marcelo
Perez del Castillo as well as Liliana Methol, the last of the five female passengers to
die. And there was the cold. Temperatures on the mountain sometimes fell
as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit. Even worse, when the plane took off from Montevideo, it had been warm and the heaviest clothing anyone on the plane seemed to have were some sports jackets. They also needed even more calories than human
flesh would provide — people need a higher caloric intake at higher altitudes. Nando Parrado ended up losing 97
pounds over the course of their time on the mountain. And there was still the looming fact that
rescue didn’t seem to be coming any time soon — and that looking for the plane was
probably like finding that proverbial needle in a haystack. Several treks out were attempted, either to
find other parts of the plane or civilization or help. At one point, Gustavo Zerbino and two other
men went up to the top of the mountain, thinking they’d be able to see Chile. But all they saw was snow in every direction. On November 17, Nando Parrado, Roberto Canessa
and another man named Antonio Vizintin set out to find help. They were hoping to reach Chile. They ended up finding the tail of the plane, where they found batteries for the radio. But the batteries couldn’t be carried back
to their base camp at the fuselage because they were too big. So on the 19th, they went back to base camp
to get the radio so they could bring it to the batteries. They tried to connect the battery to the
radio but it didn’t work. By December, warmer weather caused a lot
of the snow on the mountain to melt, making a potential trek for help a bit easier. So the three men decided to go out again. They left on December 12, taking a sleeping
bag as well as a three day supply of “food” (human flesh) packed in socks. Before he left, Nando Parrado authorized the group
to eat the bodies of his mother and sister. There’s conflicting information on why Parrado
chose December 12. One source said he didn’t want to wait too
long to go back out because he didn’t want to be too weak to make the trip. Another source said the death of a passenger named
Numa actually convinced him to leave on the 12th. So I’m not exactly sure what his reasoning
was. But this trip would prove to be very important. Meanwhile, despite the official searches being
called off, Paez Vilaro continued to look for his son and the other missing passengers. At some point in December, members of the
Chilean Air Force saw a cross in the snow and thought it might
have been made by the survivors. But it turned out to have nothing to do with
them — it was actually a device used by Argentinian officials to measure snow levels. Back in the mountains, Antonio Vizintin ended
up walking back to the base camp, but his companions pressed on. Like I said earlier, Nando Parrado had been
traveling on the plane with his mother and sister, who had both since died. But his father and at least one other sibling
were backin Uruguay. The thought of seeing his father again motivated
him to keep going. Roberto Canessa thought of his own mother
as well as his girlfriend, both of whom I assume were both back home in Uruguay as well, to keep
him going. But the trip was much further and longer than they expected. At one point, Parrado wondered what would happen if Roberto Canessa broke his leg — would he carry him up the mountain the rest of the way or leave him behind? At at least one point, they were sure they would die,
but they pressed on anyway. By December 20, Nando Parrado had walked 38
miles in worn out rugby shoes, and all his efforts were about to pay off. That day, they encountered a group of men
who have been described by some sources as “ranchers” and others as “herders.” I’m assuming these two terms are similar. At first, it was hard for them to communicate with one another because they were on the opposite sides of a river. Around 8 pm, one of the ranchers shouted at
them “tomorrow!” The next day, Parrado and Canessa met back
up with the ranchers. They ended up communicating with them by writing notes,
tying them to rocks and throwing them across the river. One of the notes, the most well-known,
reads as follows, though I’m not sure which of the men wrote it. So I know there’s a discrepancy here with
the dates. Most sources said the two men set out on December
12th and wrote this note on December 21st. That would be nine days, not ten. I’m not sure what happened here. It’s possible the sources I read got it
wrong. It’s also possible that Parrado and/or Canessa
lost track of the days as they were hiking and thought they had been walking for 10 days
when it had actually been eight or nine. The ranchers contacted police, and Parrado
and Canessa were rescued. Back at camp, the remaining 14 survivors had
found a smaller radio that worked. They learned about this rescue via that
radio. On December 22, helicopters were flown to
the site of the crash. Six survivors were rescued that day, the remaining
eight the next day. Altogether, out of the 45 people on the plane,
16 had survived — Roberto Canessa, Nando Parrado and the 14 back at base camp. The men still on the mountain had been stranded
there for 72 days. Their rescue was seen as a Christmas miracle. The rescue made international news, and all
16 survivors became instant celebrities. But reactions to their ordeal were mixed. Some people regarded them as heroes, brave men who
had beaten the odds and survived a terrible situation. But when the survivors admitted to cannibalism,
there was backlash. A lot of this backlash was from their fellow Catholics, who considered cannibalism a grave sin regardless of the circumstances. One survivor told the media they had been inspired
by the last supper, which seemed to quell things a bit. A Catholic priest later told them eating flesh was okay in their situation because they would have died otherwise. The Catholic church ultimately ended up absolving them of any sin. I’m not Catholic, and the idea of cannibalism
being sinful was honestly new to me. Judging by the research I did for this
video, it still seems to be something that is debated among Catholics. So I’m not sure how representative this
backlash was of all Catholics or the Catholic church. In 1973, 11 of the mothers whose children
had died on the mountain funded a library called “Our Sons” in the Carrasco neighborhood
where most of the passengers had lived. In 1975, the book Alive was published. Author Piers Paul Read interviewed the survivors
for the book and became close to them. But once the book was released, they had problems
with his descriptions of them eating human flesh. They were afraid he had painted them in a bad
light and were afraid that the book would cause more public backlash. But he stood his ground and didn’t change any details, and the survivors eventually came around. The only survivor who never had issues with
the book was Nando Parrado. Other people were upset that the survivors profited off this book, as well as public speaking and interviews. They saw it as them profiting off a tragedy. (As of 2010, Nando Parrado got 200 speaking requests
a year.) But despite the public eye on them, as well as
the controversy, most of the survivors ended up fading from the public spotlight and ended up living out relatively normal lives. All of them still live in the same neighborhood in Montevideo, and remain friends to this day. They try to get together every year on December
22, the anniversary of their rescue. They also stay in touch with Sergio Catalán,
one of the ranchers who rescued them. The people who died in the crash — or in
the ensuing weeks — were buried at the site Some survivors don’t want to go back to the
site of the crash, but others make the trek up regularly to visit the graves of their loved ones People from around the world also visit the
memorial, despite the long and hard trek up. In 1992, plans were made for a Life magazine
article on the story. The survivors signed a contract with the magazine saying they couldn’t talk about the story to any other news sources. They would also
get a percentage of the foreign sales from the issue, which was released in February
1993. They said they signed this contract so they
wouldn’t get overrun by reporters. Later that year, the movie adaptation of the
book Alive was released, with Ethan Hawke playing Nando Parrado. In October 2012, 40 years after the crash,
the survivors flew to Santiago to play a match against the Old Grangonian team they were
supposed to play all those years ago. There was an anniversary ceremony with military jets
dropping parachutists draped in Chilean and Uruguayan flags. There were also framed photographs
of the victims who had died. In 2006, a foundation called Fundación Viven
was established. This translates roughly to “Living Foundation.” It was formed in memory of the crash and the people
who died. Their mission is “to encourage the essential
values of the human spirit, to work toward creating change that will have a positive
impact on society.” Roberto Canessa’s girlfriend, who he thought of to get through the ordeal, later became his wife. He’s now a pediatric cardiologist and
believes he was spared so he could help the children he now works with. After surviving the crash but losing his wife,
Javier Methol went back to his old job at a cigarette company. Like many survivors, he
also became a public speaker. He remarried and had four more children with
his new wife. He died in 2015 at the age of 79, the first
(and, so far, only) survivor to later die. There are tons upon tons of movies, TV shows, specials and documentaries about the case — way too many to go into here, but I did want
to highlight a few. The most well known, of course, are Alive:
The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read as well as the movie adaptation. Several of the survivors have also written
their own books. Nando Parrado recounted his story in Miracle
in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and my Long Trek Home. Roberto Canessa’s book is titled I Had to
Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired My Calling to Save Lives. Another survivor named Eduardo Strauch gave
his own account in Out of the Silence: After the Crash. Strauch decided to tell his story when a mountaineer
found his jacket and wallet on the mountain and returned them to him. There are also plenty of noteworthy documentaries. I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash
premiered on the History Channel in 2010 and it marked the first time Nando Parrado had ever actually appeared on camera to talk about the crash. Another documentary has a somewhat darker
story to it. In I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash,
a photograph of some of the survivors appears. In the bottom right corner of the photo, you
can see what appears to be a human spine. According to The New York Post, this is an
actual photo from the crash site and the spine is real. Other people online have debated this. Since it was featured in a documentary, it’s
possible it was a reenactment. I haven’t seen the documentary, so I can’t
say for sure. Another documentary is Stranded: I’ve Come
from a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains. I assume this title was taken from the note that either Parrado or Canessa wrote to the ranchers. Some of the footage from the 40th anniversary
rugby match was shown in this documentary. The movie’s cinematographer, Cesar Charlone,
is a friend of Nando Parrado. This was also the only movie that got the blessing of all the survivors. One more documentary I want to mention is
an episode of the National Geographic show Trapped. which you can watch on YouTube — I will leave a link below. There’s also an album called Miracle In
The Andes: Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571. The music was written by composer and artist Adam Young and is available in several different places. But I will leave a link below where you can get all of them. So that’s just about all I have for you
today on the crash of Flight 571. Obviously this is a very dark story, but also
inspiring. As I was researching this, I couldn’t help but be
in awe at these 16 men who defied the odds and survived something that most people didn’t
expect them to survive. So what do you think of this story, and do you think that you would be able to engage in so-called “survival cannibalism” if you were in a similar situation? Let me know in the comments. If you enjoyed this video be sure to like
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you next time. [airplane noises]