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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 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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