It is usual to describe the survivors of accidents as ‘lucky’, but in the case of the ill-fated Uruguayan college rugby team, stranded in the High Andes after a plane crash, luck had nothing to do with it – only the team’s sporting spirit of co-operation and endurance ensured that any of them made it back alive.
On October 12 1972, a plane carrying Stella Maris College rugby team plus coaches and supporters took off from Montevideo. The team had an inter-college match fixture in Santiago, Chile. Bad weather forced an unscheduled landing in Mendoza, Argentina. After an overnight stop, the flight resumed but the terrible weather still hampered progress. The pilot plotted a new route across the mountains into Chile but he miscalculated the aircraft speed and sent an inaccurate location report.
Suddenly a blanket of cloud engulfed the plane and it crashed into the snow-covered mountainside; 17 passengers and crew were either killed instantly or died within minutes. The survivors were in the main extremely fit young men, but they were stranded on a barren snow-covered rock face miles from anywhere in freezing conditions, with scarcely any food and no shelter apart from the plane’s mangled fuselage. They huddled in the wreck of the plane and awaited rescue.
By the tenth day, two more had died of their injuries and the rest were starving. An avalanche killed another eight. The life-or-death situation demanded an extreme response. The remains of the team had to make an appalling decision: the only way to stay alive was to eat the flesh of their dead friends. After 60 days the two fittest youths, having regained some strength, set off on a 12-day trek through the mountains and finally found help. Of the 45 people on the flight, 16 survived their horrendous ordeal.
When was the Stella Maris College Rugby Team Airplane Crash: From Friday October 13 1972
Where was the Stella Maris College Rugby Team Airplane Crash: Andes, South America
What was the Stella Maris College Rugby Team Airplane Crash death toll: 29
You should know: Robert Canessa, a medical student, is thought to have proposed cannibalism as a survival strategy. He was later to make an unsuccessful bid to become president of Uruguay. The ordeal of the plane crash and its aftermath was recounted by author Piers Paul Read in his best-selling book Alive!, later made into a film.