The East Terrace - For the rugby football enthusiast

Miracle in the Andes: 72 days on the mountain and my long trek home

Miracle in the Andes
Miracle in the Andes
Published by Orion

By Nando Parrado

Terrace Book of the Month - August 2006

The story of the remarkable survival of sixteen members of a top Uruguayan rugby team after their plane crashed deep in the Andes in 1972 is one of the most famous and awe-inspiring survival stories in history.

The incident is so well known as a result of both the incredible feat of endurance shown by those who survived the tragedy and the fact that to prevent starvation they were forced to eat the remains of those who perished in the disaster.

The tale was most famously told in the 1993 movie Alive!; the film itself was based on a book of the same name by Piers Paul Read. Forty-five people boarded the aircraft but only thirty-two passengers survived the initial crash on the mountains (they only did so because the plane hit a glacier which happened to have exactly the same angle of descent that the plane was making and because the winter was so bad the heavy snowfall offered them some protection from the rocks they collided with). Stranded 12,000 feet above sea level, with almost no food or water, dressed mainly in summer clothing and having to live in conditions of minus thirty-five degrees, the numbers inevitably dwindled as the days and weeks passed.

Nando Parrado was one of two survivors who managed to get far enough from the crash site to raise a call for help. Unlike some of his team-mates, who were praying to God for their salvation, Nando realised their only hope of survival lay in them trying to reach outside help themselves. Indeed, such was the epic achievement for him to reach any kind of civilisation at all, the rescue teams doubted his story when he tried to explain the location of the crash site. The rescuers, understandably, assumed it was impossible for any human to make the journey he had being so poorly equipped, untrained for the mountains and so malnourished.

Surprisingly, this account of the epic tale by Nando Parrado is the first time one of the survivors has published their own account of those horrific seventy-two days in the wilderness. Nando’s book, therefore, gives a personal insight into the events of 1972 not readily available before. It is all the more poignant as author’s mother and sister were travelling with the team and did not survive the crash.

Those who approach this book with knowledge of the Alive! film will be surprised to find elements of the story were actually left out of the movie as it was deemed that the true events were just too far fetched for moviegoers to swallow.

What also comes through the book, and in some of the press interviews Nando gave when promoting it, is his belief the fact they were a rugby team played a major part in their survival in the mountains. Taught the game at school by Catholic teachers, Nando soon came to appreciate the wonders of what was a completely alien sport for most Uruguayans.

‘To the Christian Brothers, rugby was more than a game, it was sport raised to the level of moral discipline. At its heart was the ironclad belief that no other sport taught so devoutly the importance of striving, suffering and sacrificing in the pursuit of a common goal. They were so passionate on this point that we had no choice but to believe them, and as we grew to understand the game more deeply, we saw for ourselves that the Brothers were right.’

There is no doubt that Nando sees parallels between his survival and the ethics taught to him on the rugby field.

Miracle in the Andes is a book that will stay in the heart and mind of the reader long after it has been placed back on the bookshelf. Nando’s story will in turn inspire, repulse and fascinate. But the reader is, at the end, left with a sense of wonder and awe for how the human body can survive such torments. Even more so when one learns of the fruitful, rich and loving lives many of the survivors went on to live.

Without a doubt, if this book were fiction you would laugh at the sheer improbability of it all. A must read.