I struggle with who to put as my “hero” in that field on myspace. I’ve never been through any great struggle where just one person really pulled me through and proceeded to become my hero…I was flipping through People magazine (don’t worry, Britney Spears isn’t my hero), and I came across an article on the plane crash in Chile in the 70’s — the one with the rugby team. There is a movie based on that real life story and it’s called “Alive.” That movie came out when I was a freshman in high school, and it was the first movie I can remember literally taking my breath away. The story of these people…surviving not only a horrific plane crash, but an avalanche that proceeded to bury their fuselage, a search being called off, and ultimately, 2 men, hiking over 70 miles through -30 degrees to save themselves. THAT is heroic.

More in depth details of the crash:

On Friday the 13th of October, 1972, an Uruguayan Air Force twin turboprop Fairchild FH-227D was flying over the Andes carrying the Stella Maris (Christian Brothers) school’s “Old Christians” rugby team from Montevideo, Uruguay to play a match in Santiago, Chile.

The trip had started the day before, October 12, when the Fairchild departed from Carrasco International Airport, but inclement mountain weather forced an overnight stop in Mendoza, Argentina. After resuming the flight on the afternoon of October 13, the plane was soon flying through a pass in the mountains. Due to a curious navigation error, the pilot notified air controllers in Santiago that he was over Curicó, Chile and was cleared to descend.

Dipping into the cloud cover while still over the mountains, the Fairchild soon crashed on an unnamed peak (later called Cerro Seler), located between Cerro Sosneado and Volcan Tinguiririca, straddling the remote mountainous border between Chile and Argentina. The plane clipped the peak at 4200m, neatly severing the right wing, which was thrown back with such a force that it cut off the vertical stabilizer, leaving a gaping hole in the rear of the fuselage. The back compartment of the plane was not severed as depicted in the movie ‘Alive’ by crashing against that peak. The plane then clipped a second peak which severed the left wing and left the plane as just a fuselage flying through the air. The fuselage hit the ground and slid down a steep mountain slope before finally coming to rest in a snow bank.


Of the 45 people on the plane, twelve died in the crash or shortly thereafter; another five had died by the next morning. The remaining 28 faced hard survival issues high in the freezing mountains. For days search parties were out looking for the missing plane but not one trace was found. The search went on until on the 8th day and it was announced that the search had been abandoned (due to lack of funds for such an extensive search). On the mountain the survivors were dismayed to hear on a small transistor radio (which belonged to one of the pilots and was made operable by repair after the crash) that the search had been called off. Later that same day another of the injured passengers died.

Many others suffered injuries from the crash (mostly broken legs from the aircraft’s seats piling together), and lacked equipment such as mountaineering sunglasses to prevent snow blindness, cold-weather clothing and footwear suitable for the area. Most gravely, they also lacked any kind of medical supplies, leaving the two freshman medical students on board that had survived the crash to improvise splints and braces with salvaged parts of what remained of the aircraft.

The survivors had a small amount of food and drink; a few chocolate bars, other assorted snacks, and several bottles of wine, which they shared in an inprovised cup made from the cap of a deoderant stick, during the following days in very small amounts so as not to exhaust their meager supply. Of course, they still ran out quickly, and on the barren snow-covered peak they found themselves stranded upon, there was no natural vegetation and no animals.
Eight of the initial survivors subsequently died on the night of October 30 when an avalanche cascaded down on them as they slept in the wreckage of the plane. Two more died in mid-November from their infected injuries; the final crash victim succumbed to infection and the effects of starvation on December 11.

In People, they really did a feature on one of the main people involved, Fernando Parrado. He was painted as the source of inspiration for the team during their highs and lows of their 72 day ordeal. Fernando and Roberto Contessa are the ones who took it upon themselves to bring survival to them. They trekked 70 miles over the Andes mountains to find life, and to find help. They were successful, and ultimately, the 16 survivors were rescued.

These days, Fernando is a doctor, and runs several businesses with his family that encourage living your life.

Fernando lost both his mother and sister in the Andes plane crash. He also lost countless friends and 72 days of his life, yet somehow, he has perceviered. He not only lives, but encourages others to do so as well.

From Outside Magazine:

Was there anything about Alive the book or Alive the movie that didn’t get it right?
They’re both very accurate. But having lived through that misery, I don’t know if a reader or people sitting in a movie theater can really comprehend the cold that burns like acid and never ends, and the fear that you have inside. I think that what people see as courage, it’s actually fear. I was so afraid, every minute. This wasn’t heroism, or adventure. This was hell.

It sounds like you discovered a lot about yourself.
I have learned that the only thing that matters is affection. All of us would have given whatever we earned in a thousand lives only for an embrace of our family. We learned so much through sorrow and pain, so whenever I look at my girls walking, or eating, or playing with the dog—I am very happy. That is my happiness now.

He can say that he wasn’t being heroic, but he and Roberto together saved the lives of the remaining people waiting to die on that mountain. Call it what you want, but to me, that, is a hero.

ps: after googling Nando, I found that he has a book coming out, and ironically, it came out today, May 9th…coincidence? hmmm.


One thought on “hero

  1. I can’t help but think of how many freakin’ times we watched that movie when we were in high school. Heaps. I find this story to be one of the most awe-inspiring that I have ever heard in my life. I can’t imagine the psychological struggle they went through as well as their physical one. Crazy. This is a story that should be shared and others should look up to these incredible survivors.

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