Miracle in the Andes
The Andes Don't Give Back What They Take



 
Miracle in the Andes
The Andes Don't Give Back What They Take

 
Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 was a chartered flight carrying 45 people, including a rugby team and their friends and family and associates that crashed in the Andes on October 13, 1972.

More than a quarter of the passengers died in the crash, and several more quickly succumbed to cold and injury. Of the twenty-nine who were alive a few days after the accident, another eight were killed by an avalanche that swept over their shelter in the wreckage.

The last of the 16 survivors were rescued on December 23, 1972, more than two months after the crash.


Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, also known as the Andes flight disaster, and in South America as Miracle in the Andes was a chartered flight carrying 45 people, including a rugby team and their friends and family and associates that crashed in the Andes on October 13, 1972.

On Friday the 13th of October, 1972, a Uruguayan Air Force twin turboprop Fairchild FH-227D was flying over the Andes carrying Old Christians Club rugby union team from Montevideo, Uruguay, to play a match in Santiago, Chile.

The trip had begun the day before, when the Fairchild departed from Carrasco International Airport, but inclement mountain weather forced an overnight stop in Mendoza.

At the Fairchild's ceiling of 29,500 feet (9,000 m), the plane could not fly directly from Mendoza, over the Andes, to Santiago, in large part because of the weather.

Instead, the pilots had to fly south from Mendoza parallel to the Andes, then turn west towards the mountains, fly through a low pass (Planchon), cross the mountains and emerge on the Chilean side of the Andes south of Curico before finally turning north and initiating descent to Santiago after passing Curico.

After resuming the flight on the afternoon of October 13, the plane was soon flying through the pass in the mountains. The pilot then notified air controllers in Santiago that he was over Curicó, Chile, and was cleared to descend.

That proved to be a fatal error. Since the pass was covered by the clouds, the pilots had to rely on the usual time required to cross the pass (dead reckoning).

However, they failed to take into account strong headwinds that ultimately slowed the plane and increased the time required to complete the crossing.

They were not as far west as they thought they were and, as a result, the turn and descent were initiated too soon, before the plane had passed through the mountains, leading to a controlled flight into terrain.

Dipping into the cloud cover while still over the mountains, the Fairchild soon crashed on an unnamed peak (later called Cerro Seler, also known as Glaciar de las Lágrimas or Glacier of Tears), located between Cerro Sosneado and Volcán Tinguiririca, straddling the remote mountainous border between Chile and Argentina.

The plane clipped the peak at 4,200 metres (13,800 ft), neatly severing the right wing, which was thrown back with such force that it cut off the vertical stabilizer, leaving a gaping hole in the rear of the fuselage. The plane then clipped a second peak which severed the left wing and left the plane as just a fuselage flying through the air.

One of the propellers sliced through the fuselage as the wing it was attached to was severed. The fuselage hit the ground and slid down a steep mountain slope before finally coming to rest in a snow bank.


The 1972 Andes Survivors

More than a quarter of the passengers died in the crash, and several more quickly succumbed to cold and injury. Of the twenty-nine who were alive a few days after the accident, another eight were killed by an avalanche that swept over their shelter in the wreckage.

The last of the 16 survivors were rescued on December 23, 1972, more than two months after the crash. The survivors had little food and no source of heat in the harsh conditions at over 3,600 metres (11,800 ft) altitude.

Faced with starvation and radio news reports that the search for them had been abandoned, the survivors fed on the dead passengers who had been preserved in the snow.

Rescuers did not learn of the survivors until 72 days after the crash when passengers Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa, after a 10-day trek across the Andes, found a Chilean huaso, who gave them food and then alerted authorities about the existence of the other survivors.


In the morning of the day when the rescue started, those remaining at the crash site heard on their radio that Parrado and Canessa had been successful in finding help and that afternoon, 22 December 1972, two helicopters carrying search and rescue climbers arrived.

However, the expedition (with Parrado onboard) was not able to reach the crash site until the afternoon, when it is very difficult to fly in the Andes. In fact the weather was very bad and the two helicopters were able to take only half of the survivors. They departed, leaving the rescue team and remaining survivors at the crash site to once again sleep in the fuselage, until a second expedition with helicopters could arrive the following morning.

The second expedition arrived at daybreak on 23 December and all sixteen survivors were rescued. All of the survivors were taken to hospitals in Santiago and treated for altitude sickness, dehydration, frostbite, broken bones, scurvy and malnutrition.


When first rescued, the survivors initially explained that they had eaten some cheese they had carried with them, planning to discuss the details in private with their families. However, they were pushed into the public eye when photos were leaked to the press and sensational, unauthorized articles were published.

The survivors held a press conference on December 28 at Stella Maris College, where they recounted the events of the past 72 days (over the years, they would also participate in the publication of two books, two films, and an official website about the event).

The rescuers and a Chilean priest later returned to the crash site and buried the bodies of the deceased 80 meters from the plane. Close to the grave a stone pile with an iron cross was built. The remains of the fuselage were incinerated.