The Chileans have a saying that the Andes do not give back what they take. The survivors of Uruguyan Air Force Flight 571 are reminded of this each year as the anniversary of their ordeal is observed. On October 12, 1972 athletes from the Old Christians Rugby Club and selected family members departed from Montevideo, Uruguay en route to Santiago, Chile for a scheduled match. Inclement weather forced a stopover later that day in the Argentine city of Mendoza. On Friday, October 13, their plane departed Mendoza for the final leg of the trip but none of the passengers could have known that their flight would never reach its final destination. At 3:34 p.m., the plane impacted the mountains below causing the aircraft to break apart, killing several passengers nearly instantly. As the fuselage came to a rest, survivors found themselves in the valley of a mountain during the winter season and in unfamiliar territory. And for the next seventy-two days, the fuselage became their home as they struggled to keep going in the face of severe adversity. Eduardo Strauch was on the plane that day and survived the crash. But for more than thirty years, he has kept his silence about what he remembers and how it impacted his life. This short but poignant memoir is his account of what is known as the “Miracle in the Andes”.
Previously, I reviewed two books that have been written by those who survived the ordeal. The first was Nando Parrado’s Miracle in the Andes which I found to be the most extensive account. And in the History Channel documentary on the crash, he is the narrator and most prominent speaker of those connected to the event. The second book is called I Had to Survive by Roberto Canessa and is also a very moving account of the ordeal. However, Canessa’s life took a slightly different path, leading him into the medical field instead of public speaking. Parrado and Canessa are by far the more popular of those who survived the crash. But Strauch has plenty to say here about what he remembers of that day. And although his account is shorter than the other two, there is much to be learned here as he takes us back in time to a day when he was a optimistic young man anxious to play a football match in Santiago, Chile.
Interestingly, Strauch nearly missed getting on the departing flight in Montevideo due to his travel documents being left at home. But fate was at play and he managed to sort his affairs only eight minutes before takeoff. For the young athlete, the flight was the first part of what was intended to be a joyful weekend. In less than twenty-four hours, that journey turned into a nightmare. Following the impact, survivors went into action to help the wounded, move the deceased and figure out how to obtain any type of help. Strauch was a key eyewitness to all that transpireddand he relays play-by-play, the grim reality of their situation that eventually begins to settle in. His description of key events are direct and to the point, sparing the reader from more gut-wrenching anecdotes. However, what he does say is sure leave readers with a chill running down their spines.
As the ordeal extends from hours to days to weeks, the survivors begin to realize that there is no guarantee of rescue. Yet, they never give up and rely on each other during an event that no one could have predicted. Strauch reflects that:
“Friendship had been a constant in our story, such a crucial part of our survival from the beginning that it was difficult to separate one from the other. What we suffered together only depened the friendship that had existed amoung the majority of us before emabarking on the trip, turning it into an unbreakable brotherhood.”
Throughout the story, Strauch is always insightful, even at times when it seems as if all hell has broken loose. It is evident that the experience remains with him to this day and for the survivors of that crash, they share a bond that can never be broken.
As I mentioned, the book is not very long and the story moves quite rapidly. He recalls the moment they realized that Nando and Roberto had found help and that they would be resuced by authorities. Without question, the rescue after seventy-two days, is one of the highlights in the book, next to Strauch finding love and becoming a father. But regardless of what he has accomplished in life, he never fails to remind us that the mountain is always in his thoughts. The Andes took a part of him that will remain in the Valley of Tears for an eternity. However, the Andes also gave him several things which he explains beautifully here in this excellent account of a very dark moment.
“The capacity of the mind to embrace infinity, that path toward an authentic spirituality, is one of the most beautiful lessons that my life on the mountain left me with.” – Eduardo Strauch
ASIN : B07H7GKR9R
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