50 years ago crash and cannibalism in the Andes
50 years ago, a plane carrying young Uruguayan rugby players crashed in the Andes. The survivors will spend 72 days cut off from the world, resorting to cannibalism to survive.
The chartered military plane that was to take the university rugby team “Old Christians” from Montevideo to Santiago, Chile, disappeared from radar on the evening of October 13, 1972 with 45 people on board.
Contact with the twin-radiator from Mendoza (Argentina) broke off after it had flown over Curico, around 200 kilometers south of Santiago.
The next day, a miner from that town said he saw a plane crash in the Andes. But aerial searches of these snowy places turned up nothing.
– “Come to our aid” –
It wasn’t until more than two months later, on December 22, that the device was finally found, thanks to tips from two 19-year-old survivors who went to warn the emergency services.
They threw a note wrapped around a rock at a muleteer across a river in San Fernando, about forty miles north of Curico, which AFP reports at the time said: “We are Uruguayans. Our plane fell into the mountain. Ten days of walking, we can’t walk anymore. Fourteen people are injured, come to our aid”.
Her companions, very emaciated, some with frostbite, were evacuated by helicopter within 48 hours.
The 16 survivors begin to tell their odyssey. The pilot of the distressed plane, trapped in the fog and deep pockets of air, steered his plane onto a snow-covered platform. When the plane came to a stop after a long slide, a dozen passengers were dead. Others will succumb to their injuries in the days that follow.
At 3,500 meters above sea level, the survivors try to organize themselves, sleeping in the hut and rationing their food, chocolate and cheese as much as possible.
A few days before Christmas, the joy is at its peak. “We are witnessing a miracle that has never happened before in the world,” enthuses the Uruguayan chargé d’affaires in Santiago, César Charlone. Her survival was “scientifically inexplicable,” say the doctors treating her.
– “Terrible decision” –
Rumors of “cannibalism” spread quickly in the Chilean press. A relief commander confirmed on December 26 that the survivors had eaten the flesh of their dead comrades.
A first anonymous statement by one of the youths is published in the Santiago daily newspaper “La Segunda”. “After four days of survival (…) we had already used up all the food that was on the plane, the plants that we had laboriously pulled out from under the snow were tiny.”
“We then made the terrible decision: In order to survive, we would have to overcome all obstacles, whether religious or biological.”
The survivors explained themselves in a joint statement that was read a few days later at a press conference in Montevideo. “We said to ourselves: if Jesus divided his body and blood among the apostles at the last supper, shouldn’t we understand that we had to do the same?”
The survivors were supported by the Uruguayan Church and by Pope Paul VI. acquitted.
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