After 50 years of air disaster in the Andes, survivor of drama with cannibalism recalls: ‘I lived through hell’

Roy Harley survived one of the most dramatic air tragedies in history: the crash of a plane in the Andes Mountains on October 13, 1972, after hitting a spike. Of the 45 occupants of the Uruguayan Air Force aircraft, only 16 survived after 72 days of suffering, deprivation, freezing temperatures and even cannibalism. It was the “Miracle of the Andes”a moving story that was eventually taken to cinemas.

The first night was the worst, Roy recalled. The plane was carrying players from an amateur rugby team from Uruguay and their families to a match in Chile. Many of them weren’t prepared for the extreme cold.. After the fall, some of the survivors were seriously injured. Those who could were squeezed into what was left of the fuselage amid the corpses and the screams of the wounded. Initially, 32 survived the fall..

“That night, I lived through hell”Roy told France Presse. “At my feet there was a boy who was missing a part of his face and choking on blood. I didn’t have the courage to reach out to him, hold his hand, comfort him. I was scared. I was too scared.”he amended, 70 years old.

The next morning, another four died.

“I have no words to describe how cold it was”said Roy’s former rugby teammate, friend and fellow survivor Carlos Paez, now 68. “We were so cold, it was so hard, I have no words to describe it”he added.

Roy Harley, survivor of the Andes tragedy Photo: AFP

On the tenth day of isolation, the survivors heard by radio, which worked for a few minutes, that the search was over. were, thus, officially helpless.

There was almost no food on the plane that would make a short flight from Mendoza (Argentina), where it had a stopover, to Santiago (Chile). It was when the cannibalism as a form of survivalone of the issues that hurts the most for the survivors.

There was no food available in the desolate, ice-covered landscape, and soon the survivors would be starving to death. The majority then voted “yes” to eating their dead friends.. Catholics, many of them preferred cCompare the act of eating human flesh to the sacred ritual of communion.

“We try to eat leather, we try to eat cigarettes, we try to eat toothpaste”recalled Roy at Carlos’ house in Montevideo (Uruguay). “We were dying. When you have that choice: die or use the only thing you have. We did what we did for a living.”he added.

Roy Harley participated in the Rio 2016 Olympic Torch Relay
Roy Harley participated in the Rio 2016 Olympic Torch Relay Photo: Disclosure/Rio 2016

On the 16th, another hard blow: an avalanche buried the shattered fuselagethe survivors’ only shelter, while they slept. eight were killedleaving just 19 of the original 32 survivors of the crash. Three more would die in the next few days.

“The avalanche was like God stabbed us in the back”said Charles.

Survivors learned, without tools, to use airplane debris to make hats, gloves, snowshoes, quilts and snow blindness sunglasses. They found a way to melt ice and snow to drink waterdespite sub-zero temperatures.

Memorial to the victims of the Andes tragedy at the crash site of the Uruguayan Air Force plane
Memorial to the victims of the Andes tragedy at the site of the Uruguayan Air Force plane crash Photo: Reproduction/Wikimedia Commons

Ten weeks later, the long-awaited help finally came. Roberto Canessa and Fernando Parrado started walking in the snow towards the unknown. After ten days, they spotted men on horseback. The group couldn’t hear them, but one of the men found the next day a rock with a paper message wrapped around it asking for help. The next day, the helicopter arrived.

Roy and Carlos insist they are not victims. For them, their story in the Andes is about resilience and teamwork.

“An extraordinary story starring ordinary people. In the end, life triumphed”said Charles.

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