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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


©Ricardo Pña's
Climber Ricardo Pña's startling find has reopened an adventure classic.
PEÑA LIFTED THE FROZEN JACKET. Objects spilled from a large pocket. A roll of film. A baggage claim tag. A wallet containing 1,000 Uruguayan pesos, 13 U.S. dollars, and a photo ID bearing the name and likeness of Eduardo Jose Strauch.

Peña knew who Strauch was: one of three cousins who'd survived the wreck. Fito Strauch stands out in the book for an early innovation that saved the group: He figured out how to fashion reflectors to melt snow into drinking water. Eduardo also played a prominent role in the drama. Slightly older at 24 than the others, he emerged as the level-headed figure put in charge of rationing the meat. His striking face stared out at Peña from the still-legible passport. "It was like a dream," Peña says. "But at that point, any doubts were erased. This was from the crash."

After sitting for a few minutes in stunned silence, Peña and Perez decided to bring Strauch's personal effects back with them, leaving the coat to mark the spot. A few hours of daylight remained, so the two continued upward; at 6 p.m., they reached the impact site, where a propeller still sticks in the snow. From there, Peña climbed toward the peak that Parrado and Canessa had scaled in snowshoes fashioned from aircraft seating. At the top, he considered in awe the willpower they must have had to summon upon reaching the spot--from which they'd expected to see Chilean pastures--only to see rows of snow-covered mountains. "They were so poorly equipped, but so determined," Peña says. "And to have continued, not knowing if the valley would lead them out...it was very brave."

To Peña's knowledge, their route has never been retraced. (Parrado tried in 1997, but his party failed and had to call in rescue helicopters.) The mountaineer in Peña longed to tackle it, but night was falling, so he rejoined Perez, and together they descended, in silence, to camp.



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READERS COMMENTS

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!

alex
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

Penelope
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.

Ann
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!

megan
May 27, 2008

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

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