1972 Andes flight disaster

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Uruguayan Flight 571
The Fairchild FH-227D, with Flight 571's Fuerza Aérea Uruguaya livery, used in the 1993 movie Alive.
Accident summary
Date 13 October 1972 – 23 December 1972
Summary Controlled flight into terrain due to Pilot error, 72 day survival
Site Remote mountainous Malargüe Department, Mendoza Province, Argentina, near to the border with Chile (1200 mts)
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Passengers 40
Crew 5
Fatalities 29 (not all due to crash; see Passengers and Crew sections below)
Survivors 16
Aircraft type Fairchild FH-227D
Operator Uruguayan Air Force
Flight origin Carrasco International Airport
Montevideo, Uruguay
Stopover Mendoza International Airport
Destination Pudahuel Airport
Santiago, Chile

Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 was a chartered flight carrying 45 people, including a rugby union team, their friends, family and associates, that crashed in the Andes on 13 October 1972, in an incident known as the Andes flight disaster and, in South America, as the Miracle in the Andes (El Milagro de los Andes). More than a quarter of the passengers died in the crash and several others quickly succumbed to cold and injury. Of the 27 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 16 survivors were rescued on 23 December 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 Chilean arriero Sergio Catalán,[1] who gave them food and then alerted the authorities to the existence of the other survivors.


On 13 October 1972, a chartered Uruguayan Air Force twin turboprop Fairchild FH-227D was flying over the Andes carrying the 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, Argentina. At the Fairchild's ceiling of 9,000 metres (30,000 ft), 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 Curicó before finally turning north and initiating descent into Santiago.

After resuming the flight on the afternoon of Friday, 13th of October, the plane was soon flying through the pass in the mountains. The pilot then notified air traffic controllers in Santiago that he was over Curicó, Chile, requested permission, 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). They failed to take into account strong headwinds that slowed the plane and increased the time required to complete the crossing. They were not as far west as they thought 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), 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), 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 location of the crash site is Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found., in the Argentine municipality of Malargüe (Malargüe Department, Mendoza Province).

Early days

Of the 45 people on the plane, 12 died in the crash or shortly thereafter; another five had died by the next morning, and one more succumbed to injuries on the eighth day. The remaining 27 faced severe difficulties in surviving in the freezing mountains at such a high altitude. Many had suffered injuries from the crash, including broken legs from the aircraft's seats piling together. The survivors lacked equipment such as cold-weather clothing and footwear suitable for the area, mountaineering goggles to prevent snow blindness (although one of the eventual survivors, 24-year-old Adolfo "Fito" Strauch, devised a couple of sunglasses by using the sun visors in the pilot's cabin which helped protect their eyes from the sun). They lacked any kind of medical supplies, and the death of Dr. Francisco Nicola left a first and a second year medical student who had survived the crash in charge to improvise splints and braces with salvaged parts of what remained of the aircraft.

The search

Search parties from three countries looked for the missing plane. Since the plane was white, it blended in with the snow, making it invisible from the sky. At one point the survivors tried to use several sticks of lipstick recovered from the luggage to write an SOS on the roof of the plane, but abandoned the effort after it became apparent that they lacked the necessary lipstick to make letters that would be plainly recognizable from the air. The initial search was cancelled after eight days. The survivors of the crash had found a small transistor radio on the plane and Roy Harley first heard the news that the search was cancelled on their 11th day on the mountain. Piers Paul Read's Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (a text based upon interviews with the survivors) described the moments after this discovery:


The survivors had a small amount of food: a few chocolate bars, assorted snacks and several bottles of wine. During the days following the crash they divided up this food in very small amounts so as not to exhaust their meager supply. Fito Strauch devised a way to melt snow into water by using metal from the seats and placing snow on it. The snow then melted in the sun and dripped into empty wine bottles. Even with this strict rationing, their food stock dwindled quickly. There was no natural vegetation or animals on the snow-covered mountain. The group survived by collectively making a decision to eat flesh from the bodies of their dead comrades. This decision was not taken lightly, as most were classmates or close friends. In his 2006 book, Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, Nando Parrado comments on this decision:

All of the passengers were Roman Catholic. According to Read, some rationalized the act of necrotic cannibalism as equivalent to the ritual of Holy Communion, or justified it according to a Bible verse (no man hath greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends). Others initially had reservations, though after realizing that it was their only means of staying alive, changed their minds a few days later. There are reports that the only surviving female passenger, Liliana, although not seriously injured in the crash, was the last survivor to initially refuse eating the human flesh due to her strong religious convictions. She later began eating after being convinced by her husband, Javier, and the other survivors – though she died shortly thereafter in the avalanche.


Eight of the initial survivors died on the afternoon of 29 October when an avalanche cascaded down on them as they slept in the fuselage. For three days they survived in an appallingly confined space since the plane was buried under several feet of snow. Nando Parrado was able to poke a hole in the roof of the fuselage with a metal pole, providing ventilation. Among the dead was Liliana Methol, wife of survivor Javier Methol. She had been the last surviving female passenger.

Hard decisions

Before the avalanche, a few of the survivors became insistent that their only way of survival would be to climb over the mountains themselves and search for help. Because of the co-pilot's assertion that the plane had passed Curicó (which was completely wrong, the real position was more than 55 miles (89 km) to the east deep in the Andes), the group assumed that the Chilean countryside was just a few miles away to the west. The plane had crashed inside Argentina, and unknown to the survivors, just 18 miles (29 km) west of an abandoned hotel named the Hotel Termas Sosneado. Although the hotel had been closed since 1953, and the building was in ruins, there is a hot spring there, and the walls that remained standing may have provided some shelter. On the other hand, there were no supplies at the hotel, and the trek would have taken 1-2 days, perhaps exhausting the survivors even further. Several brief expeditions were made in the immediate vicinity of the plane in the first few weeks after the crash, but they found that a combination of altitude sickness, dehydration, snow blindness, malnourishment and the extreme cold of the nights made climbing any significant distance an impossible task.

Therefore, it was decided that a group would be chosen, and then allocated the most rations of food and the warmest of clothes, and spared the daily manual labour around the crash site that was essential for the group's survival, so that they might build their strength. Although several survivors were determined to be on the expedition team no matter what, including Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa, one of the two medical students, others were less willing or unsure of their ability to withstand such a physically exhausting ordeal. From the rest of the passengers, Numa Turcatti and Antonio Vizintin were chosen to accompany Canessa and Parrado. At Canessa's urging, they waited nearly seven days, to allow for the arrival of summer, and with it higher temperatures.

Although they were hoping to get to Chile, a large mountain lay due west of the crash site, blocking any effort they made to walk in that direction. Therefore, they initially headed east; hoping that at some point the valley that they were in would do a U-turn and allow them to start walking west. After several hours of walking east, the trio unexpectedly found the tail section of the plane, which was still largely intact. Within and surrounding the tail were numerous suitcases that had belonged to the passengers, containing cigarettes, candy, clean clothing and even some comic books. The group decided to camp that night inside the tail section, and continue east the next morning. However, on the second night of the expedition, which was their first night sleeping outside exposed to the elements, the group nearly froze to death. After some debate the next morning, they decided that it would be wiser to return to the tail, remove the plane's batteries and bring them back to the fuselage so that they might power up the radio and make an SOS call to Santiago for help.


Upon returning to the tail, the trio found that the batteries were too heavy to take back to the fuselage, which lay uphill from the tail section. They decided instead that it would be more effective to return to the fuselage and disconnect the radio system from the plane's electrical mainframe, take it back to the tail and connect it to the batteries, where they could then call for help. One of the other team members, Roy Harley, was an amateur electronics enthusiast, and they recruited his help in the endeavour. Unknown to any of the team members, the plane's electrical system used alternating current while the batteries in the tail produced direct current, making the plan futile from the beginning. After several days of trying to make the radio work at the tail, they gave up and returned to the fuselage with the knowledge that they would have to climb out of the mountains if they were to have any hope of being rescued.

The sleeping bag

It was now apparent that the only way out was to climb over the mountains to the west. They also realized that unless they found a way to survive the freezing temperature of the nights, a trek was impossible. It was at this point that the idea for a sleeping bag was raised.

In his book, Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, Nando Parrado would comment 34 years later upon the making of the sleeping bag:

After the sleeping bag was completed and another survivor, Numa Turcatti, died from an illness, the hesitant Canessa was finally persuaded to set out, and the three men took to the mountain on 12 December.

December 12

On December 12, 1972, two months after the crash, Parrado, Canessa and Vizintín began their trek up the mountain. Parrado took the lead, and often had to be called to slow down, though the thin oxygen made it difficult for all of them. It was still bitterly cold but the sleeping bag allowed them to live through the nights. In the film Stranded, Canessa called the first night during the ascent, when they had difficulty finding a place to use the sleeping bag, the worst night of his life.

On the third day of the trek, Parrado reached the top of the mountain before the other two. Stretched before him as far as the eye could see were more mountains. In fact, he had just climbed one of the mountains (as high as 4,650 metres (15,260 ft)) which forms the border between Argentina and Chile, meaning that they were still tens of kilometres from the green valleys of Chile. After spying a small "Y" in the distance, he gauged that a way out of the mountains must lie beyond, and refused to give up hope. When Parrado and Canessa realized that the hike was going to take more time than they had originally planned for, and that they were running out of food, they sent Vizintín back to the crash site. Since the return was entirely downhill, it only took him one hour to get back to the fuselage using a makeshift sleigh.

Finding help

Zone of the Accident. The dotted green line is the survivors' descent route.[5]

Parrado and Canessa hiked for several more days. First, they were able to reach the narrow valley that Parrado had seen on the top of the mountain, where they found the bed of Rio San Jose, leading to Rio Portillo which meets Rio Azufre at Maitenes. They followed the river and reached the end of the snowline. Gradually, there appeared more and more signs of human presence, first some signs of camping, and finally on the ninth day, some cows. When they rested that evening, they were very tired and Canessa seemed unable to proceed further. As Parrado was gathering wood to build a fire, Canessa noticed what looked like a man on a horse at the other side of the river, and yelled at the near-sighted Parrado to run down to the banks. At first it seemed that Canessa had been imagining the man on the horse, but eventually they saw three men on horseback. Divided by Portillo River, Nando and Canessa tried to convey their situation, but the noise of the river made communication difficult.

One of the horsemen, a Chilean arriero named Sergio Catalán, shouted "tomorrow." They knew at this point they would be saved and settled to sleep by the river. During the evening dinner, Catalán discussed what he had seen with the other arrieros who were staying in a little summer ranch called Los Maitenes. Someone mentioned that several weeks before, the father of Carlos Paez, who was desperately searching for any possible news about the plane, had asked them about the Andes crash. The arrieros could not imagine that someone could still be alive. The next day Catalán took some loaves of bread and went back to the river bank. There he found the two men still on the other side of the river, on their knees and asking for help. Catalán threw them the loaves, which they immediately ate, and a pen and paper tied to a rock. Parrado wrote a note telling about the plane crash and asking for help. Then he tied the paper to a rock and threw it back to Catalán, who read it and gave them a sign that he understood.

Catalán rode on horseback for many hours westwards to bring help. During the trip he saw another arriero on the south side of Rio Azufre and asked him to reach the boys and to bring them to Los Maitenes. Then he followed the river to its intersection with the Rio Tinguiririca, where after passing a bridge he was able to reach the narrow route that linked the village of Puente Negro to the holiday resort of Termas del Flaco. Here he was able to stop a truck and reach the police station at Puente Negro, where the news was finally dispatched to the Army command in San Fernando and then to Santiago. Meanwhile, Parrado and Canessa were rescued and they reached Los Maitenes, where they were fed and allowed to rest.

The following morning the rescue expedition left Santiago, and after a stop in San Fernando, moved eastwards. Two helicopters had to fly in the fog, but reached a place near Los Maitenes just when Parrado and Canessa were passing on horseback while going to Puente Negro. Nando Parrado was recruited to fly back to the mountain in order to guide the helicopters to the remaining survivors. The news that people had survived the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 on 13 October had also leaked to the international press and a flood of reporters began to appear along the narrow route from Puente Negro to Termas del Flaco. The reporters hoped to be able to see and interview Parrado and Canessa about the crash and their survival ordeal.

Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa (sitting) with Chilean arriero Sergio Catalán

The mountain rescue

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. The expedition (with Parrado on board) was not able to reach the crash site until the afternoon due to the difficulty of air travel through the Andes. The weather was very poor 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 rescued the remaining survivors. All of the survivors were taken to hospitals in Santiago and treated for altitude sickness, dehydration, frostbite, broken bones, scurvy and malnutrition.


October 1972

12 October (Thu) Day 0
Crew 5, Passengers 40.
13 October (Fri) Day 1—crashed at 3:34 pm
5 people dead (Ferradas, F. Nicola, E. Nicola, E. Parrado, Vazquez), 7 people missing (Martinez, Ramirez, Costemalle, Hounié, Magri, Shaw, Valeta). Alive: 33
14 October (Sat) Day 2
Five people died (Lagurara, Abal, Mariani, Maquirriain, Martinez-Lamas) Dead: 10, missing: 7, alive: 28
21 October (Sat) Day 9
Susana "Susy" Parrado died. Dead: 11, missing: 7, alive: 27
24 October (Tue) Day 12
6 missing people found dead (Carlos Valeta not found until 14 December). Dead: 17, missing presumed dead: 1, alive: 27
29 October (Sun) Day 17
8 people died in an avalanche (Perez, Platero, L. Methol, Nicolich, Maspons, Menendez, Storm, Roque). Dead: 25, missing presumed dead: 1, alive: 19

November 1972

15 November (Wed) Day 34
Arturo Nogueira died. (dead: 26, missing presumed dead: 1, alive: 18)
18 November (Sat) Day 37
Rafael Echavarren died. (dead: 27, missing presumed dead: 1, alive: 17)

December 1972

11 December (Mon) Day 60
Numa Turcatti died. (dead: 28, missing presumed dead: 1, alive: 16)
12 December (Tues) Day 61
Parrado, Canessa and Vizintin set off to find help.
13 December (Wed) Day 62
Body of Daniel Shaw retrieved
14 December (Thu) Day 63
Body of Carlos Valeta found. (dead: 29, alive: 16)
15 December (Fri) Day 64
Antonio Vizintin sent back to the fuselage.
20 December (Wed) Day 69
Parrado and Canessa encounter Sergio Catalán.
21 December (Thu) Day 70
Parrado and Canessa rescued.
22 December (Fri) Day 71
7 people rescued.
23 December (Sat) Day 72
8 people rescued. 16 people alive.
26 December (Tue)
Front page of the Santiago newspaper El Mercurio reports that all survivors resorted to cannibalism.


  • Colonel Julio Ferrádas, Pilot (died in crash)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Dante Lagurara, Co-Pilot (died on first night)
  • Lieutenant Ramón Martínez, Navigator (fell to death from plane)
  • Sergeant Ovidio Joaquín Ramírez, Flight attendant (fell to death from plane)
  • Sergeant Carlos Roque, Mechanic (died in avalanche)


*Rugby players


File:Crash site.JPG
View of the Crash Site Memorial – taken looking west in February 2006.

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. 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 28 December at Stella Maris College in Montevideo, where they recounted the events of the past 72 days[6] (over the years, they also participated 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 (262 feet) from the plane. Close to the grave a stone pile with an iron cross was built. The remains of the fuselage were doused in gasoline and set alight.[7]


The first book, Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (published two years after their rescue), was written by Piers Paul Read who interviewed the survivors and their families. It was a critical success and remains a highly popular work of non-fiction. In the opening of the book, the survivors explain why they wanted it to be written:

A reprint was published in 2005 by Harper. It was re-titled: Alive: Sixteen Men, Seventy-two Days, and Insurmountable Odds—The Classic Adventure of Survival in the Andes and includes a revised introduction as well as interviews with Piers Paul Read, Coche Inciarte, and Álvaro Mangino.

34 years after the rescue, Nando Parrado published the book Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home (with Vince Rause), which has received positive reviews. In this text, Parrado also touches upon public reaction to this event:

Film and television

Survive!, also known as Supervivientes de los Andes, is a 1976 Mexican feature film production directed by René Cardona, Jr.[8] It was based on the 1973 book, Survive by Clay Blair, Jr.[9]

Alive is a 1993 feature film directed by Frank Marshall and based on the book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read. It stars Ethan Hawke and is narrated by John Malkovich. Nando Parrado served as a technical adviser to the film. Carlitos Páez and Ramon "Moncho" Sabella visited the fuselage set during the production to aid with the historical accuracy of the set and to advise the actors on how events unfolded.

Alive: 20 Years Later is a 1993 documentary film produced, directed and written by Jill Fullerton-Smith and narrated by Martin Sheen. It explores the lives of the survivors twenty years after the crash and discusses their participation in the production of Alive: The Miracle of the Andes.

Stranded: I Have Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains, written and directed by Gonzalo Arijón, is a documentary film interlaced with dramatised scenes. All the survivors are interviewed, along with some of their family members and people involved with the rescue operation. An expedition in which the survivors return to the crash site is documented. The film premiered at the 2007 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Netherlands and received the Joris Ivens Award.[10][11] This film appeared on PBS Independent Lens as STRANDED: The Andes Plane Crash Survivors in May 2009.[12]

Trapped: Alive in the Andes is an episode from National Geographic Channel documentary television series Trapped. The series examines incidents which left survivors trapped in their situation for a period of time. The episode aired 7 November 2007 as part of the series' first season.

I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash is a documentary film directed by Brad Osborne that first aired on the History Channel on 20 October 2010. The film mixed reenactments with interviews with the survivors and members of the original search teams. Also interviewed were Piers Paul Read, renowned mountain climber Ed Viesturs, Andes Survivors expert and alpinist Ricardo Peña, historians, expert pilots, and high-altitude medical experts.

See also


  1. "Sitio Oficial del accidente de los Andes – Historia". Retrieved 27 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Piers Paul Read in Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (88–9, first edition)
  3. Nando Parrado, Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, pages 94–95
  4. Nando Parrado, Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, pages 170–1
  5. See two virtual 3D image of the zone POR_DONDE_BAJARON_CANESSA_Y_NANDO?. The maps use the toponomy of a 1956 map of the region drawn by Luis Lliboutry
  6. Alive : The Andes Accident 1972 | Official site |. Viven.com.uy.
  7. "Andes Accident Official Web Site – Memories". Retrieved 16 February 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Supervivientes de los Andes IMDb
  9. "American Heritage Center – Virtual Exhibits – Clay Blair, Jr". Retrieved 14 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Lee, Chris (8 November 2008). "The director of 'Stranded' has lived with this story". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 November 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Stranded, The Official movie website
  12. Independent Lens . STRANDED: The Andes Plane Crash Survivors. PBS.

Further reading



  • Dowling, Claudia Glenn. "Still Alive." Life Magazine (February 1993): 48–59.

External links