By Obinna Odenigbo
On Friday, the 13th of October, 1972, a Uruguayan plane was carrying the Old Christians Club Rugby Union team from Montevideo, Uruguay, to play a match in Santiago, Chile.
When they got to Chile, the pilot notified air controllers in Santiago of his position. He told them that he was over Curicó, Chile, and was cleared to descend.
That proved to be a fatal error.
Since the pass was covered by the clouds, the pilots didn’t realize that they were not as far west as they thought they were and, as a result, the turn and descent were initiated too soon.
The plane soon crashed on an unnamed peak!
Of the 45 people on the plane, 12 died in the crash or shortly thereafter; another five had died by the next morning, and one more succumbed to injuries on the eighth day.
The remaining 27 faced severe difficulties surviving in the high altitudes of the freezing mountains. Many had suffered injuries from the crash, including broken legs from the aircraft’s seats piling together. The survivors also lacked equipment such as cold-weather clothing, footwear suitable for the area, as well as mountaineering goggles to prevent snow blindness.
Meanwhile; search parties from three countries looked for the missing plane. However, since the plane was white, it blended in with the snow, making it virtually invisible from the sky. The search was therefore cancelled after eight days.
Later on; the survivors found a small transistor radio on the plane- from which they heard the news that the search for their plane was cancelled. One can only imagine how despondent they felt as eleven days had now passed since their crash.
They had a small amount of food though: a few chocolate bars, assorted snacks and several bottles of wine. During the days following the crash they divided out this food in very small amounts so as not to exhaust their meagre supply. But even with this strict rationing, their food stock dwindled quickly.
Furthermore, there was no natural vegetation or animals on the snow-covered mountain. The group thus survived by collectively making a decision to eat the flesh from the bodies of their dead comrades, beginning with the pilot. It was a tough decision to reach, as most of them were either classmates or close friends and everybody on board was Catholic!
After repeated mountain expeditions in search of help and radio signals; they got a breakthrough and were spotted by a search team. The above picture was taken by a member of the search party.
On this day- 23 December – in 1972, Cruise Nigeria fondly remembers the rescue of 16 survivors out of the original 45 people on board. All of the survivors were taken to hospitals in Santiago and treated for altitude sickness, dehydration, frostbite, broken bones, scurvy and malnutrition.