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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

©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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