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October 13, 1972: aircraft disaster in the Andes

48 years ago the tragedy which inspired two movies

Survivors: there are two movies dedicated to airplane disaster in the Andes and both have decided to underline this adjective to summarize a tragedy which today is 48 years old. On 13 October 1972, almost half a century ago, a Fokker F-27 plane crashed near the Andes mountain range, to be precise in the territory of the Argentine municipality of Malargüe. The aircraft of the Fuerza Aerea Uruguaiana had departed from Montevideo with 45 people on board (it was flight number 571), specifically from the international airport of Carrasco. It was headed for Santiago de Chile and crashed at an altitude of 4200 meters. The trip was booked by a young rugby team, the Old Christians Club, which was made up of university students and was to play a match in Chilean territory. Full team, technicians, family, friends and even a person unrelated to the match: these were the passengers of that plane as well as the crew of course.

Flight plan did not include intermediate stopovers, but a thick fog advised the pilots to land in Mendoza on 12 October and leave the next day. Despite the adverse weather conditions, the aircraft took off for Chile; the decisive mistake was made 13 minutes after the departure from Mendoza, with the pilot convinced that he was in the wrong place, which is why the Chilean control tower authorized the descent towards Santiago. In reality the plane found itself in the heart of the Cordillera and the impact was inevitable. Of the 45 people on board, twelve died as a result of the accident, while others lost their lives due to the cold of the night or slipping into the ravines in an attempt to reach the other survivors. There was no shortage of wounded, treated by two students who attended the faculty of medicine; in addition, to protect themselves from the cold while they slept, they built a sort of barrier with the suitcases before settling into the torn remains of the aircraft.

The searches went on for a long time and the remaining passengers survived by rationing their food supplies and even deciding to feed on the corpses of their dead companions, who were buried in the snow. Two survivors, Roberto Canessa and Fernando Parrado, aware that the hopes of getting out alive from that place were no longer many, decided to attempt a reckless crossing of the Andes on foot to seek help. On December 23, seventy-two days after the tragedy, the nightmare ended: they both crossed the Andes reaching a village and raised the alarm. The toll of the accident was 29 victims and 16 people who managed to escape, some of which witnessed their experience in highly contested books precisely because of the choice of cannibalism as well as inspiring two films of 1976 and 1993.

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AVIONEWS - World Aeronautical Press Agency