Survivor of 1972 Andes Plane Crash Recalled of Harrowing Experience When He Has to Eat the Human Flesh to Stay Alive

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On Oct. 13, 1972, a Uruguayan air force plane, carrying the Old Christians Club rugby team, crashed in the Andes mountains of Chile. Facing starvation and death, the survivors reluctantly resorted to cannibalism. Among the 45 people on board, 28 survived the initial crash. After 72 days on the glacier, 16 people were rescued.

Survivors of 1972 Andes plane crash.

Survivors of 1972 Andes plane crash.

The flight carrying 19 members of a rugby team, family, supporters, and friends originated in Montevideo, Uruguay and was headed for Santiago, Chile. While crossing the Andes, the inexperienced co-pilot who was in command mistakenly believed they had reached Curicó, Chile, despite instrument readings indicating differently. He turned north and began to descend towards what he thought was Pudahuel Airport. Instead, the aircraft struck the mountain, shearing off both wings and the rear of the fuselage. The forward part of the fuselage careened down a steep slope like a toboggan and came to rest on a glacier. Three crew members and more than a quarter of the passengers died in the crash, and several others quickly succumbed to cold and injuries.

On the tenth day after the crash, the survivors learned from a transistor radio that the search had been called off. Faced with starvation and death, those still alive agreed that should they die, the others may consume their bodies so they might live. With no choice, the survivors ate the bodies of their dead friends.

Survivors of Flight 571 outside of the plane.

Survivors of Flight 571 outside of the plane.

Survivors of Flight 571 outside of the plane.

Roberto Canessa was a second-year medical student when the plane he had chartered with his rugby team mates crashed into the mountains. “Eating human flesh, you feel like you’re the most miserable person on the earth,” he said. “But in my mind, there was the idea that my friend was giving me a chance of survival that he didn’t have.”

Canessa broken his silence to tell his own story in a memoir, I Had To Survive. The specter of resorting to cannibalism haunts him still. “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,” he recalled. “After just a few days we were feeling the sensation of our own bodies consuming themselves just to remain alive.”

Roberto Canessa in the early 1970s.

“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?

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