Desperation In The Andes: The Rugby Cannibals

We have all heard the saying “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” but what about” I’m so hungry I could eat my teammates”? Well, that is exactly the phrase that a rugby team could have popularized after their plane crashed in the Andes in 1972.

On October 13, 1972 aircraft FAU 571 was carrying members of The Old Christian Club Rugby Union from Montevideo, Uruguay to a match in Santiago, Chile when severe turbulence and low cloud coverage caused it to crash land in the Andes. Of the 45 people on board 3 passengers and 2 crew members were killed when the tail of the plane broke apart from the rest of the aircraft. 2 more passengers died seconds later after; falling out of the fuselage. 4 more people including the pilot of the plane died upon impact of the crash. 5 more people would go on to die during the first night of being stranded.

Chilean Air Search and Rescue were notified that the plane had gone missing within the hour and the story reached the media by 6:00 pm that same day. On October 14, 1972 11 aircraft’s from Argentina, Uruguay, & Chile were sent out on a search & rescue mission to no avail. The survivors attempted to use lipstick found in some luggage to write an “SOS” message on the top of the airplane after they failed to alert at least aircraft’s flying overhead that they were there (the white aircraft was almost impossible to see against the snow). They soon had to give up on their plan when they realized they needed much more lipstick to make their message visible by air. After 142 hours and 30 minutes the search party felt there was no hope of recovery and abandoned the mission eight days after it started on October 21,1972 . They decided that they would go out and search for the bodies in summer (December for the southern hemisphere) once all the snow melted.

The survivors found a small transistor radio jammed between two seats of the airplane, they were able to use it long enough to hear that the search had been called off. They used pieces of the airplane along with seat belts to construct a makeshift structure (the 27 survivors managed to jam themselves inside it). They used sheet metal found under the seats to melt the snow and pour it into empty wine bottles for drinking water. They used sun visors, bra straps and wire to protect themselves from snow blindness. The group used seat covers removed from the airplane as means to keep warm and the cushions from inside the seats as snow shoes. After the survivors makeshift supplies and structure were set up team captain Marcelo Perez took on the role as group leader.

The survivors lacked medical supplies and fought to stay alive during the night when temperatures dropped to -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 degrees Celsius). Many of the survivors has never seen snow before and none of them had experience when it came to dealing with high altitude. The group found very little food on the aircraft and tried to ration eight chocolate bars, a tin of mussels, three small jars of jam, a tin of almonds, a few dates, candies, dried plums, and several bottles of wine the best they could.

Even with a strict rationing plan the short supply of food soon ran out. The survivors began to realize they were in serious trouble when no animals or plants were available to use as a backup food source. Their desperation led them to eating cotton and leather from the seats inside the plane, although this only made them sicker over time. On the 10th day the survivors had very little hope of rescue and were faced with the strong possibility of starvation & death.

I personally love food & get rather hangry, so I probably would not have survived past the first 12 hours. With no other source of food the survivors made the grueling decision to consume their fellow teammates, close friends, and even relatives to stay alive. The decision was not made lightly (I would hope not) and it is said that they went back and forth with the idea for many hours. Using broken glass as a cutting tool the survivors each ate a matchstick size piece of flesh from one of the deceased.

Realizing they would soon be too weak for any chance of survival most of the group was willing to eat more meat from the bodies the next day. Although some flat out refused and others kept vomiting after consumption. Corpses of some of the survivors sisters and mothers were never eaten and went untouched the whole time they were stranded. They would dry out meat from the bodies in the sun before eating it and survived on flesh, muscle, & fat for sometime. Once that supply ran low they turned to eating the victims hearts, lungs, & even their brains.

Ok, I know I said that I get very hangry but I could NEVER bring myself to eat another human being, to this day I have no idea why Jeffrey Dahmer found the idea so appealing. Than again, I have never been put in a life or death situation where eating a person might be my only chance of survival (just the thought makes me shudder).

On October 29, 1972 an avalanche trapped the survivors inside their makeshift structure while they slept and 8 more people would go on to perish, this included team captain Marcela Perez. With no other options available the remaining survivors began to consume their newly deceased friends. During this time the group decided to send out a few survivors to try and find help. They were given the biggest ration of food and the warmest clothing that the group could scrounge together. On November 15, 1972 after many grueling hours of climbing and walking all over the mountain the search party came across a glimmer of hope. The group stumbled across the tail of the aircraft that had separated during the crash. Inside the tail they found luggage that contained a box of chocolates, three meat patties, a bottle of rum, cigarettes, extra clothes, comic books, & a tiny amount of medicine. They were also lucky enough to come across the aircraft’s two way radio.

That night the search party decided to camp out inside the tail where they used the comics to start a fire for warmth. The next day they continued walking and that night they were forced to sleep outside which nearly resulted in all of the party freezing to death. After this near death experience the team decided it would be safest to double back to the tail of the aircraft and gather batteries they found inside to try and power up the radio and make a distress call back at base.

In the end the batteries ended up being too heavy to transport and they decided it would be easier to return to fuselage, disconnect the the radio they had found inside their previously, & carry that back to the tail to be hooked up to the batteries. After several grueling days they gave up on trying to make the radio work and realized the only way they even had a chance of being found was by making the harrowing climb out of the mountains. During the journey 3 more members of the group perished, leaving the remaining members to realize that they needed to find help quickly if they wanted to survive the tragedy.

On December 12, 1972 2 members of the group were sent off to find help. These people survived 60 days outside in the harsh weather. I’ll be damned if any of them were going to give up now! The perseverance of these two gentlemen would eventually lead them to a truck where they were able to get the driver to alert for help (they had walked for about a week before even finding this beautiful means of hope). On December 22, 1972 two helicopters finally reached the crash site and were able to take the remaining survivors to safety.

The remains of the consumed deceased were buried at the crash site and the 13 untouched bodies were taken back home to their family. The survivors went on to tell their tale of cannibalism and survival. This all sounds like some crazy movie and if I didn’t research it first hand I almost wouldn’t believe it. If you were faced with life or death and had run out of all your resources would you be able to eat your friends to survive? I’m not so sure that I could, although I could probably feast on my husband for about a month. I’m kidding……..I’m kidding.

The Survivors:

Carlos Paez Rodriguez 

Roberto Canessa (medical student) 

Nando Parrardo 

José Pedro Algorta (economics student) 

Alfredo “Pancho” Delgado 

Daniel Fernández 

Roberto “Bobby” François 

Roy Harley 

José “Coche” Luis Inciarte 

Álvaro Mangino 

Javier Methol

Ramón Sabella 

Adolfo “Fito” Strauch 

Eduardo Strauch 

Antonio “Tintin” Vizintín 

Gustavo Zerbino 


After The Crash – National Geographic

Haunted By Cannibalism – The Washington Post

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