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Beyond my self

April 7, 2014

This is a personal account I wrote, pretending I am one of the survivors of the 1972’s plane crash in the Andes. Thus, Nando Parrado, one of the lucky ones, didn’t write this, although is based on his experience. The account includes stories of some of the other survivors.

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Life goes on fast, and the memory of tragic events stays fresh and still, like cold gravestones.

 My name is Nando Parrado, from Montevideo, Uruguay. More than 35 years ago I was a young student enjoying life at full. I was in my first year of the university and eager for adventures rather than spending countless nights stressed by books. Time was just filled playing rugby, chasing girls and racing my car. I was easy going, not really cut out to be a leader. I was one of those privileged.

On October 13, 1972, I was on the way to Chile from Uruguay with my rugby team, to play a friendly game in Santiago, but a miscalculation of the pilot crashed the small military plane in the middle of the Andes. Because of freely available seats, we had invited friends and families to share the weekend. Some of them would go skiing and some others would watch the matches. Sadly, It never happened. Out of 45 persons between passengers and crew, only 16 of us survived. Some of them died at the crash, some others died in an avalanche and some others of starvation or exposure. I lost my mother and one of my sisters (the other one stayed at home with my father). My sister Susana “Susy”, died peacefully in my arms. I think she knew I was there, all the way to the end. It is so important to know that your family loves you.

We were so young. Many of of us were close friends; we grew up in the same neighbourhood and went to the same catholic school. This perhaps made it easier to trust each other and agree on leadership. Our survival depended on good coordination and team spirit, which are fundamental features when playing rugby. This was essential in our resilience and eventual comeback to civilisation. Yet, some of us believe that any random group of human beings would have achieved the same. Only God knows.

Few days after the crash we heard on the radio that the search was over. I was very disappointed and to my astonishment, one of my friends said to me that this was good news, because now we knew we were on our own. That is the bottom line of being realistic,  you think the world knows you exist, but that is in fact a wrong impression. My friend died few days later.

We were fighting for our lives for 60 days, inventing all kind of artefacts: knives,an ice smelter to get water, shelter and warm clothing among other ingenious things. A person is capable of amazing accomplishments in extraordinary situations. We even created our code of behaviour in order to keep the moral high; this was absolutely necessary if we had to convince our self that eating the flesh of our friends was ok; that slashing, cutting, dragging and conserving body parts was human in order to remain human. Eating your dead friends was the only option, it was a survival decision standing on faith. We were living in a different world; it felt like we were the subject of a brutal experiment.

But this had to stop. I was determined to go back to my father against all odds, I had to get out of there. The group decided that I would be the leader of the three-man expedition that would try to reach the edges of the Andes. We aren’t born leaders, leadership evolves because of the situation. After a while walking and climbing, we decided that only two of us would keep going soon after we realised that the ration (still human flesh) wasn’t enough for the three of us. We walked for 12 days, non-stop. Those ridges of the Andes are colossal; sometimes you felt that there was no reason to go on. But then you pull yourself together and come about the fact that you left your friends behind, hoping you will make it.  The only reason you go forward is because you can’t go back. You have to keep going unless you die.

… then, life came along. Green grass,flowers and traces of civilisation like cows and tin cans, brought us back to our senses. So simple things we need to be happy and yet, so much we demand from our ephemeral existence.

Thanks to the a samaritan rancher passing by, which he rarely did, help came few ours later, and with it of course the press. But when I thought everything was over, the pilots assigned to the rescue talked me into coming along, arguing that they would never find the rest of the survivors by them selves. Once again God was testing me, He won’t allow half-done things: “the task was not to send help but to bring it with you” – The Lord seemed to remind me. So I was squished into one of the helicopters, which by the way weren’t prepared for such a harsh environment, and all the sudden I was back in a horrific scene of abandoned people mixed with eaten human remains.

Our lives were never the same, we keep seeing each other every year, mostly to celebrate that we are alive. Soon after I came home, I dropped my studies and started a career as car racer; thanks to which I met my beautiful wife who gave me two wonderful daughters. I still am one of those privileged.

Looking back and reflecting, I can’t imagine my life without those ridges of the Andes. All of us need, sooner or later, to overcome Andes of our own.

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From → Fiction

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