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Backpacker Magazine – June 2005

Alive Again: New Findings in the 1972 Andes Plane Crash

Colorado climber Ricardo Peña's surprising discovery raises new questions in the infamous tale of survival

by: Dan Koeppel

©Courtesy of Ricardo Peña
Peña surveys the scene in far less dire conditions than the survivors endured.

THE NEXT DAY, Peña, a group of Argentine hikers, and Mario Perez, a local horseman, departed. The Andean topography was magnificent, Peña says; they rode between snowy peaks and camped beneath the moonlit silhouettes of 15,000-foot summits. After two days, they reached the site.

Trying to reconcile the heroic landscape he'd imagined as a youth with what lay before him, Peña found the view beautiful but intimidating. "It's a huge valley surrounded on three sides by massive walls," he says. And though the Argentine side is somewhat open, "it isn't obvious that it would make a good escape route." (The survivors' decision to head west, the more treacherous direction, was largely inspired by the copilot's dying claim that they'd already flown into Chile. It turned out they were nearly 50 craggy miles from the border.)

Once the survivors were rescued, much of the debris was burned; what's left of the fuselage is now marked with a cross. A second crucifix sits at a burial site for those who died. While the other hikers paid their respects, Peña and Perez climbed toward the initial impact point several thousand feet above.

Peña's background as a mountaineer helped lead him to his first discovery. He knew from the contours above the site that avalanches would have been frequent, and that any crash debris carried down by falling snow would settle in flat spots below. When the pair reached the first such level area, Peña paused to hunt for artifacts. A quick search turned up several metallic fragments. He and Perez continued upward until they reached a junction of two chutes. A large, smooth gully rose directly above them, while a smaller one broke off to the right.

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Star Star Star Star Star
Diane Bennett
Jan 11, 2014

I have always been intrigued by their willpower to survive this tragic event. I have read and seen the movie several times and I have also had my son read it. We discuss the tragedy a lot. As I am typing this, I am listening to Aaron Neville's version of Ave Maria which was played at the end of the movie... Bravo to Peņa for his discovery! It's almost like you were one of the unfortunate that did not survive the crash but was reincarnated for this particular expedition of yours. Very Inspiring!

May 11, 2012

why didnt they show a graph for how long were they out for until they got rescude.

Tania .H
Mar 20, 2012

did they real eat flesh

Nov 07, 2010

Ann is correct, the survivors were certainly all raised Catholic but not all were especially devout. Nando Parrado says plainly that he was never all that religious, and he figured that if seeing it as a 'communion' helped some of his friends, well, that was fine, but for him it was a matter of staying alive to see his father again.

Oct 31, 2010

Just a correction: Not all of the crash survivors were or are "deeply religious". Eduardo Strauch credits their survival not to God but to the human spirit -- the ingenuity spurred by their will to survive.

bubba carter
Oct 21, 2010

in 1980 i began playing rugby, one of the quotes i heard often was "rugby players eat thier dead," only when i learned of THIS story did i understand. how many groups other than a rugby team could have survived this ordeal? hooray to the old christian rugby brothers u are survivors!

May 27, 2008

i feel sooo abd for wat happened to the ppl n da crash


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