The Ordeal

Updated March 15, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

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Thirty-two of the 45 passengers survived the initial crash. Within days, without adequate medical attention, the most severely injured died in the harsh conditions. All that the 28 survivors had for provisions was some alcohol, candy and a few miscellaneous items like crackers and jam. Although the idea of eating the flesh of those who had died in the crash was repugnant, as the survivors grew weaker and weaker, they realized this would be the only way to survive in their snowy desert. Initially, strips of flesh were cut away from the dead and eaten. But as the days turned into weeks, there was little that wasn't eaten.

To make matters even worse, on the seventeenth day there was an avalanche. Several more people died; only 19 remained. By this point some of the survivors had decided that the only way they would make it out alive was if they took action themselves. They formed groups of expeditionaries who would try to make their way out of the valley and find help. The two expeditionaries who eventually made their way over the mountains were Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa.

After ten days of walking through some of the highest mountains in the world, they came across a Chilean peasant who was tending his animals in a remote valley in the Andes. Initially, the peasant ignored them when they tried to get his attention, fearing they might be terrorists. But Parrado and Canessa persisted, and threw a piece of paper and a pen wrapped in a handkerchief to him. The paper read "I come from a plane that fell in the mountains. I am Uruguayan…" On Thursday, December 21st —seventy days after the plane crash— they were finally led out of the remote valley and taken back to civilization. There were sixteen survivors. The rescue, coming just a few days before Christmas, became known as "the Christmas Miracle".