Survivors of a plane crash over the Andes in 1972 who were forced to resort to cannibalism to stay alive said they were “accustomed to eating human flesh”.
Sixteen survivors of Uruguayan Flight 571, which took a team of amateur rugby players and their fans to Chile, gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of their ordeal – known as the Miracle in the Andes.
Their macabre story was told in Piers Paul Read’s bestselling book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, which was adapted into the 1993 film Alive and now Netflix is working on an adaptation.
Survivor Carlos Paez said it was the duty of survivors to travel the world and share the story of the 72 days they spent in the icy conditions of the mountains when they were forced to eat the corpses of their friends.
He told the Sunday Times: “I flew six million miles on American Airlines.
“I am doomed to tell this story forever, just as the Beatles must always sing Yesterday.”
There were 45 people aboard the plane, including Montevideo’s Old Christians Club rugby team and fans on October 13, 1972.
Authorities said that during the flight, the pilot veered off course in thick fog before crashing into the Andes Mountains.
Twelve passengers died in the accident and another 17 died from injuries and asphyxiation from an avalanche that occurred a few days later.
Businessman Ramon Sabella, 70, said he was holding one of the dying passengers in his arms when she died.
After 10 days, the survivors learned via an on-board radio that the search had been called off.
He recalled the agonizing choice the 16 survivors made when medical student Roberto Canessa suggested they eat the bodies of the dead so they could survive.
Sabella told the paper: “Of course the idea of eating human flesh was terrible, repulsive.
“It was difficult to put in my mouth. But we got used to it. »
He added: “In a way, our friends were among the world’s first organ donors – they helped feed us and keep us alive.”
Paez said he had no other choice if he wanted to live, adding that human flesh “really has no flavor”.
Canessa said her decision was particularly grim because the bodies belonged to teammates and friends.
He said: “My only problem with it was that it was about my friends’ bodies. I had to go see their families later to explain it to them.
Canessa, who used glass to cut meat, added that he was comforted in the knowledge that he would be okay if others used his body to feed them if he died.
THE SURVIVORS MADE A PACT
That sentiment was shared by other survivors, said Sabella, who made a pact that those who survived could eat those who died from exposure.
He said, “We promised each other that if one of us died, the others would have to eat his body.”
After spending nearly two months in the mountains, the survivors gave up hope of being rescued, so Canessa and Fernando Parrado set off in search of help.
After stuffing their rugby socks with human flesh, the pair set off and climbed about three miles up the mountain, exhausted from the ten-day journey.
Antonio Vizitin initially joined them in their desperate search for help, but was forced to turn back because they didn’t have enough food to feed three people.
During their descent, they came across a raging river that interrupted their search, but Canessa and Parrado spotted Sergio Catalán, a Chilean shepherd, on the other side who couldn’t hear them above the water. .
THE SHEPHERD WENT TO HELP
Fortunately, the pastor returned the next day and threw a rock with a pen and pencil at the survivors, who explained their terrible ordeal.
The pastor managed to alert authorities to the fate of the survivors.
A multi-day helicopter rescue was carried out and managed to save the other survivors, many of whom lost half their body weight.
Sabella said: “They took us to the hospital in Santiago. I remember the joy of that first hot bath.
ALWAYS HAUNTED BY ORDER
Though still haunted by their terrible ordeal, many survivors made the most of their rescue.
The survivors were Roberto Canessa, Fernando Parrado, Carlos Rodriguez, José Algorta, Alfredo Delgado, Daniel Fernandez, Roberto Francios, Roy Harley, José Inciarte, Alvaro Mangino, Javier Methol, Ramon Sabella, Adolfo Strauch, Eduardo Strauch, Antonio Vizintia and Gustavo Zerbino . .
Paez, now the grandfather of five, travels the world as a motivational speaker to tell his story.
Roy Harley became an engineer and is now 70 years old.
Gustavo Zerbino played a key role in boosting Uruguayan rugby’s fortunes, gathering enough new members to revive the team and win 12 Uruguayan championships in 14 years.
He is also credited with his country’s first rugby victory against Chile.
Canessa is a pediatric cardiologist and won a British Council scholarship to study at Guy’s Hospital in London.
“God has been very kind to me,” he said, adding that he sees his patients with the same will to live that he experienced in the mountains.
“I tell them we have to climb mountains and I will be their guide.”