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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


HOW COULD THE DEBRIS HAVE SAT IN Peña's gully, undiscovered, for so long? Peña says that the gully is so steep and narrow that it makes for a spectacularly difficult, unappealing climb; he may have been the first, in fact, to ascend it. But there's another explanation: Over the past three decades, glaciers have been receding worldwide; the World Wildlife Fund estimates that some Andean glaciers have lost 50 percent of their mass. At the memorial site, melting snow has revealed items that had been buried for decades. It's possible that some of what Peña found in the smaller gully migrated from above in moving ice, but the absence of similar objects in the main gully is at least one argument against that theory. What's certain is that these mountains still hold secrets. Sections of the plane--and several bodies--have never been recovered.

©Ricardo Peña
Debris is still strewn near the crash site.

When Peña returned to El Sosneado, his discoveries astonished Edgardo Barrios. "It was like finding a piece of the Titanic," says Barrios, who immediately called Eduardo Strauch, now 57 and living in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo.

"I have some of your money," Barrios blurted to a surprised, then delighted, Strauch, to whom Barrios sent the wallet and other artifacts.

The news spread quickly in Uruguay. The crash survivors were all deeply religious, and have always credited their faith with helping them survive. After much deliberation, they came to see the bodies of their friends as proof that God wanted them to live; consuming their flesh, they believed, was a sort of desperate communion. Strauch told the Uruguayan daily El Pais that finding the wallet was symbolic of the disturbing beauty that has made the ordeal so universally fascinating. "It was incredible to see my younger self, to see the passport with the text and seals and my name intact," Strauch said.



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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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