On October 13, 1972, Nando Parrado was a twenty-two year old rugby player with the Old Christians from Montevideo, Uruguay. The team was en route to Santiago Chile for an annual match against a rival team. As their Fairchild 227 flew north through the Andes following a navigational error by the plane’s pilots, it clipped the top of a mountain peak as the crew struggled to force the aircraft to climb over the deadly terrain. The initial crash killed several passengers and by the time the survivors were rescued in December, 1972, only sixteen remained. Their story was told by author Piers Paul Read in the 1974 book Alive and a film of the same title was released in 1993, starring Ethan Hawke and John Malkovich. In 2010, the History Channel released a documentary called I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash. In the documentary, Parrado is main narrator sitting in front the camera as viewers relive the nightmare. The film, book and documentary are accurate portrayals of the events that took place but are told by others who are relaying the stories of the survivors. This is Nando Parrado’s story and the will to survive that led him and co-survivor Roberto Canessa to walk for ten days in the hope of finding another human being and help for the other passengers left behind.
In the film Alive, Parrado is played by Ethan Hawke and despite the lack of Uruguayan Spanish in the film, Hawke provides a convincing portrayal. However for all of the Hollywood’s special effects and production etiquette, the film still fails to fully convey the nightmare that was their ordeal. Perhaps producers did not have enough time or felt that audiences would have revolted at all of the details. What is clear from Parrado’s account is that the horror that existed on the mountain slope was more than anyone could have imagined. Brutal, tragic and even macabre, it is a story that no filmmaker could write, such events happen by circumstance, albeit tragic. The survivors of the crash would never be the same again and according to Nando, a couple of them struggled later in life. But their story continues to amaze and inspire and is a prime example of the tenacity of the human will to live.
The beauty of this book is that these are Nando’s words as told by him. And what we see is a young man who through fate, rises to the occasion through sheer determination to live or in the alternative meet his death while trying. I have been to Montevideo and Punta Del Este, two important cities both in Uruguay today and in Parrado’s story. I have also been to Argentina and what I found interesting was the rugby aspect of his account. Football is without question the national sport throughout Latin America. But as we learn from Nando, Christian missionaries who traveled to Uruguay from Ireland insisted that the students at Stella Maris learn the United Kingdom pastime of rugby. And it was this game that served as the basis for their fatal flight. As their situation unfolds, the teachings and team spirit kicks in as they lean on each other in the struggle for survival.
The accusations of cannibalism that they faced is addressed by Parrado and he explains how and why they reached the decision to consume the only food they had left; the deceased. I cannot imagine what it was like mentally for them to even consider such an act let alone execute it. But in desperate times, we often rely on desperate measures. Readers will assuredly be divided on the issue but what we can all agree on is that had we been in that situation, we honestly do not know what we would have done until we were left with no other choices.
Although this is Parrado’s story, we also learn a great deal about the other players whom he becomes closer to as the ordeal goes on. By the end of the book, it is obvious that he and Canessa have become extremely close and are still friends to this day. They are bonded by their love of rugby and their shared experience on an isolated mountain in the Andes. The other survivors all play a role in the story and Parrado does not neglect their contributions and importance. I believe it is imperative to remember that many of the players were under twenty-five years of age. In fact, Carlos Páez Rodríguez turned nineteen as they face possible death. At that age, I could have never fathomed being in such a situation and the courage, tenacity and creativity displayed by the survivors is incredible.
I enjoyed this book so much that I read it one sitting while home on a dreary Saturday afternoon. But as I looked outside my window, I reminded myself that no matter how bad the weather is, it does compare to what Parrado, Canessa and the other survivors were forced to endure. The book is called Miracle in the Andes for good reason, it truly was a miracle that anyone made it off that mountain alive. Today at the age of sixty-eight, I am sure Nando Parrado remembers everything as if it happened yesterday. And until the day they leave here, Parrado, Canessa, Páez and the others will always look back at the time they came face to face with death in the Andes mountains. Now a husband and father of two adult daughters, Parrado is still a revered figure, known as an Andes survivor. A former race car driver who raced in Europe, he is long retired from the sport but his passion for all things in life is contagious and it is easy to see why he refused to give up his fight to live. This truly is a miraculous story and a great read.