On October 13, 1972, there was a terrible plane crash in the Andes mountains: it was so bad that no-one would have expected there to be any survivors. But, against all odds, there were. They endured unimaginable difficulties and did one understandable but truly horrific thing before they were finally rescued. In the end, 16 people were saved from certain death, and in the years afterwards they’ve told harrowing stories of how they survived.
45 on board
“Today, I would never go near that aeroplane,” survivor Nando Parrado told The Guardian in 2023. “A Fairchild FH-227D, very underpowered engines, full of people, completely loaded, flying over the highest mountains in South America, in bad weather. I mean, no way.”
The plane had been flying from Uruguay to Chile and Parrado was one of 45 on board. He was a member of the Old Christians rugby team, and they were flying to a match with their families.
When the plane crashed Lieutenant-Colonel Dante Héctor Lagurara had been flying it. And unfortunately, it was this co-pilot’s inexperience that led to the crash. He mistakenly shed altitude too quickly, mistaking their position.
As a result, the plane flew into a mountainside, instantly losing both its wings. The remains of the aircraft slid 2,300 feet before finally coming to a stop on the ice. Twelve people were killed right away.
The first deaths
Lagurara was among those who died from injuries, but before he did he was able to tell the survivors that they were past the town of Curicó. They had a vague idea, then, of where they were.
One report from the survivors states that Lagurara had begged one of the passengers to get a pistol and shoot him, hastening his death, but this person just couldn’t bring themselves to do it.
Those who hadn’t been killed in the accident were stranded on a thoroughly inhospitable mountain. The cold was severe enough to kill, and indeed five more people perished on the first night after the crash.
Other people died as the days went on. One of these was the sister of Nando Parrado, Susy; she was the second of his family members to die. He later told The Guardian, “I learned that at those moments my brain didn’t react to anything that was outside survival. I couldn’t cry. I didn’t feel sorrow.” That would come later.