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16 crash survivors were rescued after 72 days in the Andes ... They met up, 40 years later

Of the 45 passengers on board the 1972 flight, the 16 survived by feeding on dead family members and friends preserved in the snow.

INEVITABLY, LAST TUESDAY’S airline disaster – in a remote region in the French Alps – brought back certain memories for people who remembered the 1972 Andes Flight Disaster.

On that occasion, 16 survivors were rescued two months after their plane went down in a mountainous border region between Chile and Argentina.

Tragically, on Tuesday, it quickly became apparent that there would be no survivors from the Germanwings crash. French authorities announced that all 150 people on board – passengers and crew – had died.

Several members of a Uruguayan rugby team who survived that disaster – which came to known as the ‘Miracle of the Andes’ – met up on the 40th anniversary of the crash, in 2012, to play a match against former Chilean players.

The men were stranded in the mountains for 72 days after the air force plane that carried their team crashed in a mountain pass in October 1972 while en route from Montevideo to Santiago for the planned game.

Of the 45 passengers aboard, 16 survived by feeding on dead family members and friends preserved in the snow.

Andes Plane Crash Survivor Members of a Chilean police rescue patrol help Fernando Parrada after his ten day trek to civilization Friday, December 22, 1972 Source: AP/Press Association Images

“The conditions were more horrifying than you can ever imagine. To live at 4,000 metres without any food,” then 65-year-old survivor Eduardo Strauch told reporters at the anniversary match.

“The only reason why we’re here alive today is because we had the goal of returning home … (Our loved ones) gave us life. They made the sacrifice for others.”

Chilean Air Crash 1972 Unidentified survivors who were found two months after the Uruguayan plane crashed into the Andes mountains in Chile are seen, Dec. 1972.

ANDES PLANE CRASH 1972 Six of the survivors: Fernando Parrado, Daniel Fernandez and Carlos Paez, bottom, Roberto Canessa, Adolfo Strauch and Pedro Algorta. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Andes Plane Crash Source: AP/Press Association Images

“I think the greatest sadness I felt in my life was when I had to eat a dead body,” said Roberto Canessa (59) who was a teenage medical student at the time of the crash.

I would ask myself: Is it worth doing this? And it was because it was in order to live and preserve life, which is exactly what I would have liked for myself if it had been my body that lay on the floor.

Andes Plane Crash Survivor After living for two months in the Andes, Fernando Parrada has a drink of water on Friday, December 22, 1972 at Los Maitenes, Chile Source: AP/Press Association Images

ANDES PLANE CRASH 1972 Survivors walk toward helicopters during the rescue operation. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Chilean Air Crash 1972 A survivor lies in a hospital bed. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Desperate after more than two months in the frigid peaks, Canessa and Fernando Parrado left the crash site to seek help.

It was the group’s last attempt at survival.

After 10 days of trekking, they spotted Sergio Catalan, a livestock herder in the foothills of the Chilean Andes. The conditions were such that the pair couldn’t get too close to Catalan, but from afar, they heard him say one word:


“With that (word), our suffering ended,” Canessa said.

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ADDITION Chile Andes Survivors Anniversary Source: AP/Press Association Images

Andes Plane Crash Survivor Ramon Sabella receives wine at a Christmas Day mass in Santiago, Chile, December 26, 1972. Source: AP/Press Association Images

“I came back to life after having died,” said Parrado, whose mother and sister died in the Andes.

It’s something that very few people experience.

His experience, he said, scarred him but made him stronger and brought him a newfound appreciation for life.

“Since then, I have enjoyed fully, carefully but without fear. I tried to enjoy my friend, my dog, my passions, a second at a time,” said Parrado, who has been a TV host, a race car driver and a motivational speaker.

CORRECTION Chile Andes Survivors Anniversary From the 2012 match: Carlos Paez, 58, waves a small red shoe after a helicopter carrying fellow team member Fernando Parrado. Parrado gave a similar shoe to his friends at the plane crash site in 1972 before he began his ten day trek. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Chile Andes Survivors Anniversary Daniel Fernandez and Eduardo Strauch in 2012. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Another survivor, Daniel Fernandez, (66) said the ordeal “taught me that we set our own limits”.

“If I had been told: ‘I’m going to leave you in a mountain 4,000 metres high, 20 degrees Celsius below zero in shirtsleeves, I would have said: I last 10 minutes.’ Instead, I lasted 72 days.”

Chile Andes Survivors Anniversary Alfredo Daniel Delgado Salaberri, who also goes by "Pancho," left, scores the first try in the 2012 game. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The team’s terrifying story became the basis of a best-selling book and a Hollywood movie starring Ethan Hawke – ‘Alive’.

Source: Fora De Cena/YouTube

With reporting from Associated Press. 

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About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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