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Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571: rare photos and terrible cannibalism story

7 Mins read

Rugby players waving to rescue helicopters Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571People will never forget the blood-chilling story of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571. Oldpics decided to publish some of the unseen photos of that horrible 1972 accident, citing the memories of the survivor –  Fernando Parrado.

The happy life of Nando Parrado

Fernando Parrado was a 22-year-old student at the prestigious Catholic College Stella Marie in Montevideo throughout the summer of 1972. He lived a happy student life. He drove friends in his Renault along the ocean coast, swam in deserted lagoons, taking pictures of girls, and ate his mother’s lunch at home. On top of this, Fernando trained with the university rugby team ‘Old Christians.’ This team was one of the best rugby teams in Uruguay. In October of 1972, Fernando Parrado and the ‘Old Christians’ boarded Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 and directed Chile for a friendly match.

'Old Christians' Rugby team in full force

‘Old Christians’ Rugby team in full force, 1972.

The tragical Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

Their relatives and friends also went to cheer for the athletes and visit another country. The company booked the twin-engine Fairchild, which could take  45 people, including the crew. 

Read more: Delta airplane highjacking, 1972

On Friday, 13 October, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, with passengers on board, struck a wing over an unnamed rock in the Andes at an altitude of 4,000 meters.

When Nando regained consciousness, several teammates were already sitting nearby. They explained to him what had happened. After colliding with a rock, their plane was torn off both wings and tail. The twisted fuselage buried itself in the snow, which softened the collision. Thanks to this, 28 out of 45 people survived. Nando’s mother died, 19-year-old Susie was seriously injured and did not recover. The Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 got off the radar. 

A reproduction of the plane involved in the crash of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

It’s the plane that was used for the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571.

The horrors of the survival

It was so cold at night hours that you could only sleep inside the fuselage. The survivors crawled outside at day time and tried to give signs to the rescuers. They were obviously looking for the crashed Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571. Survivors saw at least two planes that flew past but did not notice the people waving their hands. It remained only to gather all the strength and wait.

Nando spent the next few days with his sister. He warmed her legs and arms. He drowned water in his palms to water her, and all the time, whispered that the worst thing would soon end. They would be found and taken home. On the eighth night, Nando felt that Susie’s body was different in his arms. She stopped breathing. The next morning, he buried his sister next to her mother.

The victims of the plane crash Andes mountains

There was a camera in one of the suitcases. The guys took a lot of pictures during the first weeks after the crash.

And survivors got trapped. 

Now he fully realized the horror of the situation. Mountains and snow stretched all around to the horizon. There was no vegetation, no animals around the crash site of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571. A few days ago, the pitiful supply of nuts, cheese, and wine that should have been given to them on the flight ran out.

Nando joined his comrades, who methodically searched the dead’s luggage and pockets for days on end, looking for something edible. They turned all the stones around the crash site, looking for sprouts or worms. The frozen ground was the only thing they found. They tried to eat leather straps of bags. Although they realized that chemically treated leather was unlikely to benefit their unhappy stomachs. In the end, they opened the plane seats because someone suggested there might be straw there. Little they knew, but Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 used a very modern plane for their flight.  The only thing they found was lightweight uneatable foam.

In the morning, the survivors sluggishly continued to search for food. Simultaneously, everyone felt that their only way out of the situation had already become obvious to the whole group.

It's all what left of the fuselage of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 plane.

It’s all that left of the fuselage of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 plane.

How the plane crash survivors started cannibalization

On a ninth day after the crash, a medic student Roberto Canessa gathered everyone near the plane’s remains. He stated that they all have two options. The first is to stay in the fuselage, save energy, and wait for the rescue. The second is to start eating the dead’s frozen bodies: the dead no longer needs flesh. Then the rest will have the energy to try to get out of the trap. You need to explore the surroundings, find the tail of the plane. They planned to find the batteries and revive the transmitter in the cockpit. That was the advice of the mechanic that he told him about before his death.

A heavy silence. “Will God forgive us for this?” – whispered one of the Old Christians. “God will not forgive you if you refuse to live,” Roberto replied. They all ate the “body of Christ” and drank its “blood” during the sacrament. The discussion on the issue’s ethical side continued until the evening, but none of the guys opposed it.

Rugby team players inside the fuselage of the crashed plane

Rugby team players inside of the fuselage of the crashed plane

The most difficult choice in a life

Things settled down at dusk. Everyone realized that they had reached an agreement. It remained to decide who would execute the decision. Who is brave enough to cut the meat of a dead friend? “I’ll do it,” Roberto said. Another medical student volunteered to go with him.

All the survivors agreed that their bodies might be eaten in the event of death.

Finally, they had the energy to do something. They organized an expedition, planned to climb up the trail of the fuselage that had moved down. They planned to find the tail of the plane and extract its batteries. However, the searchers came back with nothing. They found only one fragment of a wing and a few dead bodies. However, it was a good find.

Disaster victims on suitcases. October 1972

Disaster victims on suitcases. They used these pieces of luggage to mark the crash site so that rescuers could notice them. October 1972

And now comes the avalanche. 

On the evening of October 29, the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash victims once occupied the aircraft fuselage again. Nando woke up. He felt an icy touch with his face. In the next second, a cold, snowy mass fell on him. As Nando tried to inhale, but snow poured into his mouth, his ears, and nose. He realized that he was about to suffocate.

At that moment, a hand tore through the snow in front of his face. Nando was able to breathe. He guessed that his friends were digging him up. An avalanche covered the fuselage at night. The snow entrapped some of the sleeping people. Eight of them died after this accident.

Guys tried to make the plane better noticeable by cleaning the plane from snow. November 4, 1972

Guys tried to make the plane better noticeable by cleaning the plane from the snow. November 4, 1972

Plane crash cannibalism

The survivors spent a few days inside their shelter, buried under the snow. A heavy blizzard continued outside, so it was impossible to start digging. The worst thing was that the captives were deprived of food—the bodies laid under a thick layer of snow.

On the third day of the snow prison, one of the survivors decided to act. He found a piece of glass and started to dig.

On the fourth day, the sun came out, and people could dig out from under the snow. Survivors were now confident that rescuers would see the camp from the air if they continued to search for them.

Medics escort Fernando “Nando” Parrado.

Medics escort Fernando “Nando” Parrado.

S.O.S

In parallel, the group did not leave attempts to find the tail of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 plane. They found it by mid-November.  It took another week to connect the batteries to the transmitter. However, despite all the efforts, nothing worked. In the end, the rugby players realized that the mechanic was mistaken. The transmitter was a part of the general network of the aircraft. It couldn’t work alone.

More than a month and a half have passed since the disaster. The rescuers should have stopped searching for them. The food supply was coming to an end. Now they gotta do what they could not even think of before: the brain, liver, lungs…

Canessa and Fernando Parrado survived the crash of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

Canessa and Fernando Parrado.

Last hope

It was decided to go for help. The guys sewed a sleeping bag using insulation in the plane’s sides and material from the seats. One of the rugby players found a set of needles in the mother’s purse.

On December 12, Nando Parrado, Roberto Canessa, and an unknown survivor were able to take a long march. They got up early on a sunny morning and headed west. They decided to go until they were alive.

On a ninth day, Nando and Roberto reached the camp of the shepherds. Their third companion could not go further and remained to die in the mountains. On December 22, helicopters with rescuers reached the crash site of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 and rescued the rest.

medics examine the survivors of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

Medics examine the survivors of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 plane crash.

Coming out

Rugby players who rose from the dead have become national heroes in Uruguay. They tried to keep their secret first. However, journalists began to guess what people ate during the two-month adventure. The sensation spread the world. Very soon, the surviving heroes realized that cannibalism attracted more people than they could have imagined.

Soon after, they met together as usual and decided that they would still make it to Chile to play their rematch there. On October 12, 1975, rugby players from Stella Marie College boarded the plane again. They played the match the next day in Santiago, exactly three years later. Since then, the Friendship Cup has been held annually.

The Andes. James St. John: Flickr

The Andes. James St. John: Flickr

The site of the crash Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

The site of the crash.

The common grave of the victims of the plane that crashed in the Andes

The common grave of the victims of the plane that crashed in the Andes

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