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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 Peña
The imposing view Parrado and Roberto Canessa encountered upon climbing the unnamed mountain above the crash site on their 10-day trek across the Cordillera.

Another survivor, Alvaro Mangino, told El Pais that the group had "always thought we'd tobogganed down the flank of the larger gully." But when told of Peña's discovery in the lesser gully, Mangino wasn't entirely surprised: "This mountain keeps giving back to us."

Peña knows his reinterpretation is still, at this point, just strong conjecture. After returning to Colorado in March, he began to plan a more formal expedition, one that will include a forensic survey of the new gully and a retracing of Parrado and Canessa's trek into Chile.

In the first newspaper accounts of his find, Peña was referred to as a "Mexican hiker." This oversight was corrected by Barrios, who put Strauch in touch with the man who'd retrieved a piece of his past. In an e-mail to Peña, Strauch wrote: "I've wanted to express my gratitude. The encounter with those objects has been of great significance, and they have made me think and feel many things all over again." But it was Strauch's closing line that revealed Peña's own Andean crossing--from somebody who'd been inspired by the tale, to somebody who'd become part of the story itself. "I've lived some very emotional and intense days," Strauch wrote. "I hope I will be able to get to know you personally very soon." For Peña, Strauch's gracious words were already "a dream come true." Returning to the Andes and further unraveling the mystery? "It feels like what I've been waiting all my life to do," he says.

Dan Koeppel journeyed to Brazil last spring to profile extreme birder Peter Kaestner ("Gone To The Birds," 9/04).

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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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