“I survived because I was tougher than anyone else.” -Bette Davis
Sometime in the mid 90’s, I was able to watch this movie “Alive” on television but unfortunately, I missed the first part or approximately some 45 minutes of that film. I am no longer interested to see it then, for I thought that this motion picture was only about ‘eating human flesh’ and cannibalism.
Last Wednesday, I don’t know if it’s just a mere coincidence or not, I saw a book with a title “Alive” in a bookstore and without any hesitation, I bought it at a bargain price. I finished reading it consisting of 318 pages in just 3 days, and last night I closed that book, but made a commitment that I’m going to share at least the sum and substance of this amazing story to honor those brave men who against all odds, persevered and made it for their deliverance.
But before that, let me give a brief introduction.
On October 12, 1972, a Fairchild F-227 of the Uruguayan Air Force, chartered by 15 amateur rugby players, and 25 of their friends and relatives all coming from prominent families, set off from Uruguay to Chile. Reports of bad weather in the Andes brought some bad news and minute later there was no reply from F-227.
For 8 days the Chileans, Argentinians and Uruguayans searched for the plane but it was fruitless. It was early spring in the southern hemisphere, and the Andes had suffered exceptionally heavy falls of snow. The roof of the plane was white and little chance that it would ever be found, and less chance still that any of the 45 passengers and crew could have survived the crash.
Seventy days later, a Chilean peasant tending his cattle in a remote valley in the Andes saw, on the far side of the mountain’s torrent, the figures of two men. They made wild gestures and fell to their knees as though in supplication, but the peasant, thinking that they might be terrorists, went away. When he returned to the same spot the next day the two figures were still there, and once again they made signs to him to approach. He went to the bank of the river and threw a piece of paper and pen wrapped in a handkerchief to the other side. The bearded, bedraggled figure who received it wrote on the paper and threw it back to the peasant. It read:
“I came from a plane that fell in the mountains. I am Uruguayan. We have been walking for 10 days. We don’t have any food. We are weak. I have a friend out there who is injured. In the plane there are still 14 injured people. We have to get out of here quickly and we don’t know how. When are you going to come and fetch us? Please. We can’t even walk. Where are we?”
The man who wrote that is Fernando Parrado, and his friend who is injured is Roberto Cannesa. They traveled for 10 days, on foot, with limited food, and they encountered galore of dangers, cold and injuries along the way. They even reached one of the tallest mountains in the world, Mt. Seler and almost lost their last hopes of survival when they saw enormous mountains still covered with snow instead of plain and dry land full of vegetation. I cannot control my emotion upon learning that they did so many impossible things and I cannot condemn them when they decided to eat the human flesh of their friends who died just to survive. Imagine 70 days, and there was no animals nor plants in the Andes. They thawed a snow to have some water, ate some fabric, chewed plastics, and many unimaginable things to keep them alive. When there was no more meat, they decided to eat the skull and the brain, the liver and the lungs, and the genitals.
I’m also was so inspired when they developed among themselves great companionship, cooperation and brotherhood. The strong ones helped the weak. They rationed their meat well so that it can last. They divided their tasks, and a leader was not so dominant. At night, although with a limited space to sleep, inside that destroyed piece of airplane, they all prayed, hoping for a miracle to happen.
Then one guy stood up one morning and he said he will walk beyond those mountains of snow to call for a rescue. This guy was Fernando Parrado, a shy and timid boy aged 20 or 20+ during those times and he was assisted by another courageous man, Roberto Cannesa. Together, they hiked, walked, and crawled under the suffocating heat of the sun at daylight and the coldness of the snow at night-in 10 days. They were so weak, with injuries and pain all over but they survived. When the peasant saw them and read that letter, their 14 friends who remained in the Andes, were also rescued 2 days later.
A total of twenty-nine people died in that plane crash, injuries, malnutrition, and avalanche. Only sixteen survived. They were rescued 72 days later.
I will end with a letter for his mother written by Arturo Noguierra, one of those who survived the crash but not so fortunate to overcome his bleeding and injury. He wrote:
“In situations such as this, even reason cannot understand the infinite and absolute power of God over men. I have never suffered as I do now- physically and morally- though I have never believed in Him so much. Physically, this is torture-day by day, night by night, with a broken leg and a swollen ankle….Life is hard but it is worth living!”
God be Praised!