The survivors of the Andes: “If we had traveled on a commercial plane, no one would have been saved”

Between Nando, Eduardo and Daniel There is a kind of invisible thread that unites them. A complicity with which a gesture or a look is enough to understand each other. And, as they confess, the 72 days they spent trapped in the Andes mountain range, in extreme conditions (more than 30 degrees below zero, among others) made them shed every “mask” or layer that covers the human being. when it comes into contact with society. «We were the essence of the human being, we detached ourselves from everything, we saw ourselves as no one else has seen us or will ever see us in their lives. We created a unique society that remained there.”they say.

That connection does not go unnoticed 52 years after the tragic accident from which only 16 people emerged alive. They had barely turned twenty and faced the greatest challenge of their lives: surviving. It is not easy to sit in front of these three survivors and try to find new answers to a tragedy that they have been talking about for more than half a century. However, new feelings emerge from those days that even surprise their own classmates when they tell them. Memories that to this day remain under the snow and that a question dusts them off to come to the surface and It takes them to that Valley of Tears where they looked death in the face and defied it to begin a second life, the one they live today.

Juan Antonio Bayona's film, “The Snow Society” has brought those days of fear back to the present day “and has allowed new generations to know what happened, what we suffered,” they say. The story of survival in the middle of nowhere like never before. “If we had flown on a commercial plane, no one would have been saved,” admits Nando Parrado.

And on Flight 571 of the Uruguayan Air Force that crashed in the Andes mountain range on October 13, 1972, the Old Christians Club rugby team from Montevideo was traveling to Chile for a sports competition. They all knew each other. «And that saved us. We were people from the same neighborhood, school, from the same social environment. We used the same codes and we understood each other. Imagine on a commercial airplane with people of different ages, languages, education, religions, ethnicities…, there would not be that immediate understanding that we did have from the beginning.», explains to this newspaper Nando Parrado, who together with Roberto Canessa were the ones who began the expedition through the mountain range in search of civilization.

The accident of flight 571 of the Uruguayan Air Force occurred on Friday, October 13, 1972, when the FaiAlberto R. RoldanPhotographers

For their part, cousins ​​Eduardo Strauch and Daniel Fernández Strauch were the ones who, among other tasks, They were responsible for feeding the survivors through the corpses of their companions. A topic that was taboo for many years, even a source of controversy, but that currently no one refutes. «We spent two months eating human meat, we had it normalized, it was like eating rice. When we went out into the world the impact was huge, even our parents didn't know how to handle it. Honestly, we are the world's greatest experts in survival, we are consulted by specialists from all over the world. “No one knows more than us about how human beings act in the face of such difficult circumstances,” explains Eduardo, who together with Nando and Daniel visited Madrid this week to participate in the Values ​​Gala organized by the “What Really Matters” Foundation. ».

Daniel, the quietest of the three, is the only one who has not set foot in that inhospitable Andean enclave again, unlike Nando and Eduardo who have done so up to 13 and 20 times respectively. «I have not been able to return there because it is where I spent the worst of my life and, at the same time, the best on a spiritual level. When they took us out of there by helicopter and I saw what had been our little house, the rest of the fuselage, I thought I would never return. Of course, when he dies, my ashes will be buried at that point,” he acknowledges.

Eduardo has the same opinion and has indicated this to his family. One of the visits he made to the accident area was to deposit the ashes of Nando's father, who wanted them to be buried next to his wife and his daughter Susi, both of whom died in the accident. «I think that, if it weren't for the love that Nando had for his father, he would have thrown in the towel sooner. He would not have been involved in the journey that was our salvation. She wanted to reunite with him after losing her mother and sister. For me it was very exciting, I would never have thought it, that I would return to the mountain range with the ashes of that man, Nando's father, behind my back. It was an honor”.

Without psychological help

Nando contains his emotion at the words of “his brother from the mountain range.” “The Egyptian pharaohs had their pyramids or the Indians had the Taj Mahal, I have my entire family on a mountain range as a monument.” And he takes advantage of the fact that his father comes up in the conversation to mention what he told her when they were rescued: “Let's not destroy the second part of our life. In that accident I lost a lot, but I also gained. “He was my best psychologist for me.”

It is curious, as they say, that none of them required psychological help after “returning to life.” The physical consequences passed and the psychological ones were also overcome together. Eduardo and Daniel lost about 25 kilos, Nando, 45, “There was little left of those strong rugby player legs,” he jokes. Strong men seasoned in the abyss of life for whom the key to survival “was trust in others, not intelligence or courage. The trust. The ''Rambos'' are the first to die in these cases. Movies are one thing and reality is another,” Nando points out.

It is fascinating how the three turn this traumatic experience into an experience from which to draw lessons. What's more, every year, the survivors gather to eat on the date they were rescued. «We left alive 16 and now we are 150 (in reference to his children and grandchildren). From what was death, because every minute we died a little more in the mountain range, life came out. The easy thing would have been to let himself die, to find that peace in the midst of suffering. But we fought and here we are,” says Nando before the complicit gaze of his two brothers from the Andes.