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​The Andes Plane Crash That Led To Death – And Cannibalism

Jess Hardiman

Published 
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​The Andes Plane Crash That Led To Death – And Cannibalism

It's now been well over 40 years since a Uruguayan Air Force flight plummeted to the ground in a remote area of the Andes, taking with it a rugby union team, their family, friends and associates - and yet four decades on, it still remains one of the most fascinating and harrowing stories of all time, having even been made into a motion picture in the early 90s:

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The crash, which took place on Friday 13 October 1972, took the lives of over a quarter of its passengers, while many others died later due to the cold, to injury or after an avalanche that swept over their shelter crafted from the wreckage.

But there was one group that didn't die, and even managed to survive - albeit through pretty extreme measures.

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In his book, I Had To Survive: How A Plane Crash In The Andes Inspired My Calling To Save Lives, survivor Roberto Canessa detailed the crash his survival and their eventual but reluctant decision to turn to cannibalism.

Roberto Canessa. Credit: PA
Roberto Canessa. Credit: PA

"Our rugby team - veterans from our old school, the Christian Brothers College - had chartered the 45-seater turboprop to carry us, with our families and fans, to a match in Santiago, Chile," Canessa wrote.

"We were young, healthy and happy. But in a split second all our expectations had been ripped apart. We had been cast into a hideous limbo."

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Canessa explained that the first night after the crash seemed to 'last forever', and that he kept waking up thinking he was in the middle of a nightmare - only to soon realise that it was very much real.

"Of the original 45 people on board, 12 had died in the crash and six more over the next few days," Canessa continued.

"That left 27 of us, huddled inside the cabin. But we were no longer of this world. We had become like creatures from another planet."

Still from 1993 film Alive. Credit: United International Pictures
Still from 1993 film Alive. Credit: United International Pictures
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Canessa explained that storms in the Andes stopped them from being able to leave the fuselage.

"Our common goal was to survive - but what we lacked was food. We had long since run out of the meagre pickings we'd found on the plane, and there was no vegetation or animal life to be found After just a few days we were feeling the sensation of our own bodies consuming themselves just to remain alive.

"Before long we would become too weak to recover from starvation.

"We knew the answer, but it was too terrible to contemplate.

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"The bodies of our friends and team-mates, preserved outside in the snow and ice, contained vital, life-giving protein that could help us survive. But could we do it?

"For a long time we agonised. I went out in the snow and prayed to God for guidance. Without His consent, I felt I would be violating the memory of my friends; that I would be stealing their souls.

"Gradually, each of us came to our own decision in our own time. And once we had done so, it was irreversible. It was our final goodbye to innocence.

"We were never the same again."

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Canessa said it took time for him to find a 'rational and loving answer' to give him 'inner peace' about the ordeal.

Eventually, Canessa and his fellow survivor Fernando Parrado embarked on a 10-day trek across the Andes, eventually stumbling upon a Chilean shepherd in the foothills - before being able to alert authorities of the rest of the surviving passengers that they'd had to leave behind.

That was 21 December, 72 days after the crash.

What an incredible feat of survival.

Featured Image Credit: United International Pictures

Topics: Inspirational, Interesting

Jess Hardiman
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