About four decades after the accident that changed his life, doctor Roberto Canessa remembered that he had to eat from his friends in order not to die of hunger. Roberto is one of 16 people who survived after the plane crashed in the Andes Mountains between Chile and Argentina on October 13, 1972. They were rescued after 72 days. Canessa was only 19 years of age at the time and he was a medical student. Today, the doctor confesses that he will never forget the time he turned into a cannibal, eating from the dead passengers in order to survive.
“It was disgusting. In the eyes of a civilized society, this was a revolting decision. I stood up to my dignity when I decided to eat chunks of my friends to survive. I felt like I was taking advantage of my friends who died. “says Roberto Canessa.
Everything to survive
On October 13, 1972, at 3:35 pm, a Fairchild FH-227 turboprop aircraft of the Uruguayan Armed Forces crashed into the Andes, on the border between Chile and Argentina. There were 45 people on board, five of whom were crew members. The remaining 40 were members of the Christian Rugby Football Club rugby team and a few members of the players’ families.
The president of the Uruguayan Rugby Federation, Gustavo Zerbino, one of the survivors of the aviation catastrophe of 1972, in which 29 people lost their lives, told how the 16 survivors were forced by circumstances to choose between starving to death or eating their deceased friends in order to survive until a rescue team would find them.
Doctor Roberto says that the only thing that helped him resist was the thought of his mother and the desire not to cause her suffering through his death. At the point where he had to turn to cannibalism, Roberto says he had no choice. They were in a place where there was nothing but snow, a place where people had absolutely no business.
Their fate seemed diminished because the plane crashed into the mountains and collapsed at over 4,000 meters altitude. Between night and day, there was a huge temperature difference. Five died on impact, and 12 other people died during the five-kilometer where the aircraft went downstream. The survivors tried to go as far as possible to look for help and even screaming for hours but with no response, this has confirmed them that they were in a totally secluded location which meant that the chances of rescue were extremely low.
After some time the group of survivors has glued the wires from a detached instrument from the board of the plane to listen to the radio about the search missions. Sadly the news was not good as the search missions were a failure one after another, after a few more days the survivors have heard some devastating news on the radio, that the search team had given up looking for the crashed plane or any survivors.
Many of the survivors became hysterical at that point, however, some such as Doctor Roberto who was mentally prepared for such news as he had stated that he thought about this potential outcome. At this point, they have made the decision of splitting the group into two so that a group would go look for the other half of the plane where their supplies were as the starvation was growing into them. (it is imperative to mention that by this point none of the survivors thought of a cannibalistic act).
Without supplies, the survivors of the “tragedy in the Andes” passed from peanuts, biscuits, and tree bark to the remains of friends who died in the accident. In the first week, the survivors were feeding on jam, biscuits and drank some bottles of brandy that they had obtained from Mendoza, which they found through their luggage that escaped whole. After they have finished all the provisions they ate shell and tree branches and took a mouthful of snow.
17 days after the crash, something terrible happened, which brought the survivors down from a mental point of view. A powerful avalanche swept the valley in which they were and covered the remains of the fuselage, and the snow penetrated through the impoverished wall behind the fuselage and covered the survivors.
After a few days, when all the supplies had run out, a shocking discussion between the survivors has followed up. The only solution for survival was to eat from the dead bodies of the other survivors, there was simply no other solution. The idea was welcomed pretty well taking into consideration the starving stomach and terrible mental state that the survivors were in, this discussion happened 30 days after the crash. Doctor Roberto was the first to eat from the deceased survivors.
On the 72nd day after the crash, a farmer from the mountainside has discovered the survivors on Christmas day. The survivors mentioned that he was an angel sent from God as their savior. Even after they have been rescued their cannibalistic act for survival had left them with a huge mental disturbance however, they never hid from their dire and desperate actions.
The incredible story of the avian accident in the Andes was screened in two films, the first in 1976 and the other is 1993, and Nando Parrado, another survivor, wrote the book “Miracle in the Andes”.