Crash in the Andes (1972)

Updated March 15, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

On October 12, 1972, a chartered military plane carrying an amateur rugby team from Montevideo, Uruguay, left for Santiago, Chile. When the weather became treacherous, the plane landed in Mendoza, Argentina to wait until conditions improved. Since there was no way around the Andes, which run from one end of the South American continent to the other, the passengers and crew stayed the night and the next day, until the weather improved.

Unfortunately, when the weather cleared it was in the afternoon, which concerned the pilots; crossing the Andes in the afternoon was considered hazardous. But the only alternative was to return to Montevideo because it was against regulations for a military aircraft of a foreign power to remain for more than 24 hours on Argentinean soil. Not only had the passengers been stranded for two days, it would also mean a loss of revenue for the impoverished Uruguayan Air Force. While they were making their decision, an old cargo plane arrived from Santiago whose pilot reported that there had been air turbulence. This wouldn't pose a problem for the Fairchild, however, since it was a modern plane with up-to-date equipment. The experienced pilots of the Fairchild F-227 decided to take a chance.

The mood aboard the plane was festive, but as they approached Santiago they hit some bad weather. The plane crashed into the side of a mountain and lost both wings and the tail. Although it wasn't completely destroyed, it landed on its belly in a steep valley, which it then slid down. The plane stopped in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by snow and mountains. It was early spring in the Southern Hemisphere, but the Andes had experienced exceptionally heavy snowfall that year. The roof of the plane was white, ensuring that it would not be easily spotted by any rescue planes. It was bitterly cold, and no one was dressed for the subzero temperatures. There were few suitcases that could provide extra clothes. Although Chileans, Argentineans and Uruguayans searched for the plane, they officially stopped looking after only eight days. Only some the parents continued searching, never giving up hope.

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