Andes survivors mark 40th anniversary of crash

Associated Press Modified: October 14, 2012 at 8:01 am •  Published: October 14, 2012
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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Surviving members of an Uruguayan rugby team have played a match postponed four decades ago when their plane crashed in the Andes, stranding them for 72 days in the cordillera and forcing them to eat human flesh to stay alive.

The Old Christians Club squared off Saturday in Santiago in a game that was tied 1-1 against the Old Grangonian Club, the former Chilean rugby team they were supposed to play back when their flight went down. Their terrifying story became the basis of a best-selling book and a Hollywood movie.

"At about this time we were falling in the Andes. Today, we're here to win a game," crash survivor Pedro Algorta, 61, said as he prepared to walk onto the playing field surrounded by the jagged mountains that trapped the group.

During the anniversary ceremony, military jets flew over the field, where parachutists draped in Chilean and Uruguayan flags landed. In a corner, survivors wept when officials unveiled a commemorative frame with pictures of those who died in the snowy peaks.

"The conditions were more horrifying than you can ever imagine. To live at 4,000 meters without any food," said survivor Eduardo Strauch, 65. "The only reason why we're here alive today is because we had the goal of returning home ... (Our loved ones) gave us life. They made the sacrifice for others."

The Uruguayan air force plane that carried the team crashed in a mountain pass in October 1972 while en route from Montevideo to Santiago. Of the 45 passengers aboard, 16 survived by feeding on dead family members and friends preserved in the snow.

"I think the greatest sadness I felt in my life was when I had to eat a dead body," said Roberto Canessa, 59, who was a teenage medical student at the time of the crash.

"I would ask myself: Is it worth doing this? And it was because it was in order to live and preserve life, which is exactly what I would have liked for myself if it had been my body that lay on the floor," he said

Desperate after more than two months in the frigid peaks, Canessa and Fernando Parrado left the crash site to seek help. It was the group's last attempt at survival.

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