South America, Argentina, Central Andes, Uruguayan Rugby Team Plane Crash of 1972, New Discovery

Publication Year: 2005.

Uruguayan rugby team plane crash of 1972, new discovery. On February 12, 2005 Mario Perez (an Argentinean horse guide) and I made a historical discovery related to the famous crash in the Andes of a Uruguayan plane chartered by a rugby team in 1972. This story gained worldwide fame after 16 people survived 72 days on the frozen slopes with nothing to eat except the bodies of their dead teammates. It was made even more famous by the best-selling book, Alive.

I visited the well-known crash site in the Cordillera Occidental and decided to explore up the mountain looking for the point where the airplane must have initially hit. As Perez and I climbed up we found parts of the airplane that seemed to indicate that the plane actually crashed in a different gully than previously believed. As I followed this hunch I found a coat, glasses, and the wallet belonging to one of the survivors, Eduardo Strauch. These were almost 3,000 vertical feet above the place where the fuselage came to rest and the survivors had lived their odyssey.

Eduardo had taken his coat off when he boarded the plane 32 years ago. He had his wallet in his inner pocket, and he put his glasses on the outer pocket. When the airplane hit a saddle in the mountains it broke into two pieces. The inside of the plane decompressed and the coat that Eduardo had put on the overhead shelf flew out into the snow, not to be found until 2005. The wallet, somewhat protected by the coat, was in relatively good shape. The wallet had IDs with recognizable photographs. This discovery showed that the plane actually came down a different gully than previously believed, one that is actually steeper and narrower. It also connected me with Eduardo Strauch; we have since become good friends and are working on a few projects together.

On February 12, I continued on to climb an unnamed 15,400' peak to get a view of what Roberto Canessa and Fernando Parrado saw in 1972 as they reached the saddle that would allow them down into Chile. My climb involved a couple of short sections of technical climbing on ice and frozen dirt. I photographed, apparently for the first time, the view that the two boys had when they reached a lower saddle of that peak. This had special significance to the boys since that was probably the first time they realized they were in fact in the middle of the Andes and not on the western edge as they had thought for more than 60 days. In spite of this realization, and showing incredible courage, they headed west in a 10-day expedition and reached civilization 71 days after the crash.

Eduardo Strauch and I, along with many of the survivors, are now planning an exploratory expedition and documentary film to the site, in search of more evidence and a repeat (by me and possibly Roberto Canessa) of the historical climb and trek out to Chile. This is with the purpose of clarifying the events and honoring and commemorating the 35th anniversary of this incredible event.

Ricardo Peña