Today marks the 48th Anniversary of the Andes Flight Disaster that was carrying 45 passengers, 19 of which were members of the Old Christian Club rugby union team. Friends and former Paducah business owners, Nestor and Laura Arredondo recall the unbelievable event that happened on October 13, 1972.
Nestor had friends on the plane. One in particular, Francisco Pancho Abal was a close friend. He didn’t survive the crash. He was a friend that would spend summer vacations in a house down the street from Nestor as a young boy.
“Alvaro Mangino was one of the survivors and he and I had friends in common,” said Nestor. Mangino would be haunted by events that transpired during his time on the mountain. Times that would be recollected in conversation with Nestor.
The South American rugby team was heading from Montvideo, Uruguay to Santiago, Chile to play a rugby match. The passengers on board the plane were friends, family, and supporters of the team. The plane was chartered and being flown by an inexperienced co-pilot. He mistakenly misjudged their location and started to descend coming too close to the mountain and crashed the plane into the side of the Andes.
In the short documentary narrated by Dr. Roberto Canessa, he recalls the events of the crash and the 72 days leading up to the rescue. He said after the plane slid down the side of the mountain to its resting place he thought to himself, “my legs are here, my arms are here, my head is here,” realizing that he had survived.
There had been 33 plane crashes into the Andes Mountains with no survivors. Nobody believed there would be any survivors from this plane crash either. After approximately a week, the search and rescue was called off and a recovery mission was initiated.
The survivors of the crash knew the rescue had been abandoned due to access to the world through the battery powered radio. It was time to face the fact that ‘they were on their own.”
Nestor said he spoke with Alvaro several times through the years following the crash and Alvaro told him about his depression. Nestor said he discussed, “how difficult it was to eat human meat.” He told Nestor how they were able to do the unthinkable to survive.
If you’ve seen the movie “Alive” Dr. Canessa said they did a very good job sharing the story with the world. The movie was produced 20 years ago and is still watched today. Canessa said, “The depth of what happened is deeper inside.” Implying that there’s really no true way to represent the events that transpired those 72 days.
Canessa said in the documentary that the only reason they survived was because of 'team work'. All decisions were unanimous and each had a specific job to do. One of the survivors with broken legs melted ice to produce water. Others were in charge of building a radio while some sewed gloves and clothes from the upholstery of the seats.
After weeks and months, the survivors realized that no one was looking for them so they made a decision. Two from the group would go for help.
The trek would consist of a 35 mile walk through the mountain range with temperatures minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, blistering winds, lack of proper clothing, gear, nutrition, and in an unknown terrain. This was their only hope.
Dr. Roberto Canessa and Nando Parrado were the two that went for help. As part of the preparation for the rescue mission, the group started feeding them more, letting them sleep in the best places and making special clothes to withstand the cold. It was discovered that special insulation designed for the plane's pipes would make good sleeping bags for the trip.
After walking for 10 days and climbing 15,000 ft. mountains, Canessa and Parrodo made it through and returned to the group with helicopters to rescue the remaining survivors. All in all, there were 16 out of 45 that survived that Andes Mountain plane crash.
Nestor said, “They were 160 pounds and came back weighing 80 pounds.” The survivors were gaunt and weak but they were ‘Alive.’
As we go about our lives today, remember the perseverance shown by the survivors of Air Force Flight 571 and the lives lost. It’s a story not easily forgotten. Laura Arredondo said the event really made an impression on the lives of those from Uruguay. She said, “This was the only accident in the history of humanity that a plane falls in the Andes and there were survivors.”