|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – June 2005
Colorado climber Ricardo Peña's surprising discovery raises new questions in the infamous tale of survival
If you're reading this magazine, you probably know the story of the group of Uruguayan rugby players, family members, and fans whose chartered plane crashed into an unnamed 15,000-foot peak on October 13, 1972. The Fairchild turboprop was grounded in the middle of the Cordillera Occidental, a poorly mapped range almost 100 miles wide and home to Aconcagua, at 22,834 feet the highest mountain in the Southern Hemisphere. Dropping suddenly through clouds and turbulence, the plane clipped a peak; the fuselage spiraled downward. A wing ripped off, then the tail; two crewmembers and three of the 40 passengers were sucked out the back. Amazingly, the main cabin remained largely intact. It landed in a snowfield and tobogganed thousands of feet before crashing to a halt. Somehow, 32 passengers survived the initial crash.
Mostly young men in their teens and 20s, the survivors stepped from the wreckage into a vast, desolate bowl surrounded by sheer mountain walls. Certain that they would be rescued within hours or days, they made quick work of the wine and candy bars they rummaged from the cabin. But rescuers were searching elsewhere, and some severely injured passengers began to die. On the 17th day, eight more perished in an avalanche. Galvanized, those remaining decided their survival hinged on eating the bodies of their dead comrades. For the next 56 days, the men struggled against subzero cold, infected wounds, and their natural revulsion to eating human flesh. They eventually came to believe that their only hope was to send a party toward Chile when the weather turned warmer.