Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Crash of '72

No, this isn't about another financial meltdown - but an airplane crash: Miracle in the Andes. The story has been written about before, but this time (2006), the author Nando Parrado was one of the passengers. And even though we know obviously that he survives, his narrative is suspenseful and riveting (especially if you don't read the back cover first).

The Old Christians Rugby Club from Uruguay had chartered a plane to take them to play an exhibition game against a team in Chile. The team of young men (late teens, early twenties) was accompanied by friends, family and some team supporters. After takeoff, bad weather forced the plane to make an unscheduled stopover on the eastern side of the Andes. Without much improvement in the weather the next day, the pilots were persuaded to take to the air to cross the mountains to their destination in Chile - but they never made it. They crashed high in the Andes.

Some of the passengers died instantly, some over the next 2 and a half months as they struggled to survive in this harshest of climates. It is fascinating to watch as roles change, leaders emerge and fail, ingenious solutions are devised to life-threatening problems. I have a new appreciation for the game of rugby. I still think that it is a brutal game but the fact that so many were team members who had known each other for years probably accounted in no small part for their survival. The author, who was a member of the team, describes rugby as more of a team sport than soccer. They certainly needed to work together in this situation.

The author devotes many pages to his personal reflections at the time and his conversations at the time with other passengers about the role of God and death. As they were from Uruguay almost all of them had been raised as Catholics. This was definitely a test of faith and individuals responded in very different ways. All the larger issues were there and plenty of time for reflection: agency, fate, love, responsibility, sacrifice, ...

We also get a glimpse of how the survivors went on to live their lives after this ordeal with the most detail of course about the author's response. His father gave him some very good advice: "Don't let this be the most important thing that ever happens to you. Look forward." It took him a while to find his bearings. And it took several decades before he decided to tell his story of those 72 days on the mountain. He explains why he kept silent and why he decided to write.

I hope that I will never be tested in anything like this situation but there are some very important lessons that I have taken from this account.

Further details of the story can be found in the 1973 book Alive.

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