I ATE my dead friends to stay alive after Andes plane crash – ‘I’m proud of what I did and I’d be happy if they’d done the same to me’

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ARGENTINA – After their plane crashed and they were stranded in the snowy wastes of the Andes mountains in Argentina, Roberto Canessa and the other survivors of Flight 571 were on the brink of starving to death.

Account of Flight 571

Meagre items of food and drink salvaged from the wreckage — chocolate, nuts, crackers, jam, fruit and some bottles of alcohol — had run out and no vegetation or animal life could be found at the elevation of 11,710ft (3,570m).

Their hunger became so all-consuming and desperate that some attempted to chew strips of leather from luggage and eat foam from the broken aircraft’s seat cushions.

As they grew weaker, and the chances of rescue grew more distant, the survivors gradually came to realise what the next step had to be if they were to stay alive.

It was something that, at first, was too terrible to contemplate.

The bodies of 18 of their friends, relatives and members of the flight’s crew were frozen in the snow and the passengers’ only chance of survival lay in the unthinkable: resorting to cannibalism and eating the bodies of the deceased.

A Survivor Recalls How the Ordeals Went

Ten days into their ordeal, after much soul-searching and praying for guidance, some of the passengers — including Canessa — used a razor blade and shards of glass to cut strips of skin, muscle and fat off the frozen bodies, and forced themselves to swallow small mouthfuls.

‘Each of us came to the decision in our own time and consumed the food when we could bear to,’ recalls Canessa, speaking from his home in Montevideo, Uruguay.

‘It was a process,’ he says. ‘At first, I thought that I could not take advantage of my dead friends’ bodies. Then it became something that was natural, almost an everyday routine, because the food was part of the fuel for getting out of there. I chose to live. I am proud of what I did.’

The Story is Wrapped in Society Of The Snow

This remarkable true story is told in the new film called Society Of The Snow, currently trending in the top five shows on Netflix.

There have already been books, documentaries and a 1993 film, Alive, about one of the most thrilling and extraordinary survival stories in modern history.

But this new version by Spanish film director J A Bayona, is the nearest anyone has come to being able to understand what he and the other passengers went through, says Canessa.

Canessa was a 19-year-old medical student and one of 45 passengers and crew — including 18 members of his Old Christians rugby team and their family and friends — aboard a chartered Uruguayan Air Force flight flying from Montevideo in Uruguay to Santiago, Chile, in October 1972.

Recalling the Crash

A storm had forced the group to spend the night in Mendoza, Argentina, before the plane took off again on October 13 for what should have been a 90-minute journey.

But, due to fatal combination of turbulence and pilot error, the plane clipped the top of a 15,000ft (4,572m) peak, shearing off both wings and the tail.

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The remaining part of the fuselage then slid down a glacier at over 200mph before coming to rest in the ice and snow.

Number of Deaths

Three crew and nine passengers died instantly, and another six perished in the following days due to their injuries and the sub-zero temperatures.

Canessa, now 70 and one of the world’s leading paediatric cardiologists, vividly recalls the terrible moment of the crash and then the shock and despair of finding themselves stranded in the beautiful, but hostile, Andes mountains.

‘I saw the mountain in front of us and remember the plane trying desperately to climb and gain altitude, and then I felt a violent blow,’ he says.

‘I thought “this is it”… and then the plane stopped very abruptly because it reached the bottom of the valley.’

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Ola Alabi
Ola Moses is a certified writer, He writes technically and creatively. He is the CEO of WORDSWORTH, a house where writing is made easier for all. He is a content creator at EsB TV, since 2019. He is a young man that showcases professionalism in all that he does, he was announced as Child and Green Foundation Person of the Year 2018, one of his many lists of honours.

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