On Friday 13 October 1972, a Uruguayan Air Force FH-227 turboprop aircraft was carrying the Old Christians rugby team from Montevideo, Uruguay through the Andes to a match in Chile's capital Santiago.
The flight began the day before, October 12, when the flight took off from Carrasco airport, but due to bad weather, the plane landed at the airport in Mendoza, Argentina and stayed there overnight. The plane was unable to fly directly to Santiago due to weather, so the pilots had to fly south parallel to the Mendoza mountains, then turn west, then head north and begin descent to Santiago after passing Curico.
When the pilot reported the passage of Curico, the air traffic controller cleared the descent to Santiago. This was a fatal mistake. The plane flew into a cyclone and began to descend, focusing only on time. When the cyclone was passed, it became clear that they were flying straight to the rock and there was no way to escape the collision. As a result, the plane caught the top of the peak with its tail. As a result of impacts on rocks and the ground, the car lost its tail and wings. The fuselage rolled at great speed down the slope, until it hit the nose into the blocks of snow.
Of the 45 passengers and crew members, 12 died in or shortly after the accident; then five more died the next morning. The surviving 28 people faced the problem of survival in harsh climatic conditions. The people had neither warm clothes and shoes, nor climbing equipment, nor medicines. To somehow help wounded comrades, two freshmen from medical college made hammocks and medical splints from the wreckage of the plane.
The authorities of the three countries immediately began operations to search for the plane that had disappeared from the radar. But, since it was white and practically merged with the mountain landscape, it was never possible to find it. On the eighth day, all search operations were terminated. Passengers on the flight found a small radio and Roy Harley was the first to hear the news on the eleventh day after the crash.
The survivors had a meager supply of food: a few bars of chocolate, some crackers, and a few bottles of liquor. In order to save money, all this was divided equally and stretched over several days. Water was obtained by putting snow on metal plates and melting it in the sun.
Even with austerity, food supplies ran out quickly. Moreover, there were no plants or animals around. In order not to starve to death, it was decided to eat meat from the bodies of the dead comrades. This decision was not easy, since each of the victims was someone else's friend, classmate or relative.
All the passengers on the plane were Catholic and at first perceived this proposal as offensive and inappropriate. But after a few days, exhausted by hunger, they changed their minds on this matter.
On October 29, while the survivors were sleeping, an avalanche descended from the mountains to the valley where the fuselage was located. Eight more people died from this natural disaster. For three days, the living, along with the corpses, were trapped in snow in the cramped space of the remains of the aircraft. Then Nando Parrado knocked out a small window in the cockpit with his feet, thus saving people from suffocation.
Even before the avalanche, the survivors realized that help would not come and that they had to save themselves. The pilots said they flew over Curico, which meant Chile's Green Valleys were just a few miles west of the crash site. Nando Parrado, Roberto Canessa, Numa Turcatti and Antonio Vizintin volunteered for the campaign, but Turcatti died of blood poisoning shortly before the expedition.
Canessa did not dare to go on a hike for a long time, waiting for the end of winter and a rise in temperatures. Then the travelers set off. The passengers of the crashed plane gave them a lot of warm clothes and human flesh to be sure of the success of the upcoming operation. Suddenly, a trio of people found the tail section of the plane, which contained luggage. In their suitcases, they found chocolate, cigarettes, clean clothes and much more. After spending the night there, the expedition moved on to Chile, but on the second day they almost died from a sharp drop in temperature and worsening weather conditions. Then it was decided to return to the tail, pick up the batteries and return to the place where the fuselage fell, in order to send an SOS signal from there with the help of the radio.
Returning to the tail compartment, the participants of the campaign realized that the batteries were very heavy and it was not possible to drag them to the fuselage. Then they returned to the others, took the radio from the cockpit and decided to return to the tail to send a signal from there. They took Roy Harley with them on their next trip, who understood electronics better than the rest. However, nothing came of this venture (because the electrical systems of the plane use alternating current, and the batteries in the tail give out constant). The members of the expedition returned back and realized: crossing the mountains to Chile is the only way to salvation.
December 12, 1972 Parrado, Canessa and Vizintin set out on a campaign. The initiative was taken by Parrado, urging on the tired comrades. The sleeping bag helped them not to die at night from the cold.
The expedition took longer than the travelers had expected, so on the third day Parrado and Canessa, taking some of the meat from Vizintin, sent it back to the fuselage. Vizintin made it back safely in a makeshift sleigh made from the wreckage of an aircraft.
Parrado and Canessa continued on their way. Roberto falls ill with dysentery. Gradually, the snowy landscape disappeared, traces of human activity began to come across. On the ninth day of the journey, in Los Maitenes, they met the Chilean shepherd Sergio Catalan. The shepherd informed the authorities about the surviving passengers of Flight 571.
On December 22, two helicopters reached the crash site, but due to bad weather and the inability to return here again on the same day, the rescue expedition took only half of the passengers. The second expedition reached this place in the morning of the next day. All 16 surviving passengers were rescued. They were soon taken to the Santiago hospitals. They were treated for altitude sickness, dehydration, frostbite, scurvy, broken bones, and malnutrition.
On December 28, 1972, the survivors held a press conference where they talked about their existence between life and death for 72 days.
Later, rescuers returned to the crash site and buried the bodies of the victims under stones and debris of the fuselage. An iron cross was installed on top.
In 2009, it was reported that 16 survivors agreed to promote organ donation in a campaign run by the Uruguayan National Institute for Donation and Transplantation that encourages citizens to register for the government's organ donation program. According to Jose Luis Inciarte, one of the survivors of the plane crash, they advise people to make "an agreement with life, " as they did in the mountains lost 37 years ago.