Plane Crash Survivor Shares Account of Harsh Weather, Cannibalism

The 1972 crash in the Andes has been the subject of books and movies

Andes crash survivors
A group of Uruguayan former rugby players who survived the 1972 air crash in the Andean range in Chile pose with friends after a press conference in Santiago on October 10, 2002.

In October 1972, a plane traveling from Uruguay to Chile carrying 45 passengers crashed in the Andes. The survivors faced hostile weather and their own injuries, as well as the isolated location in which they found themselves stranded. The search for the survivors was called off, leading them to take extreme measures — in this case, eating the bodies of the deceased — to stay alive.

The crash and its aftermath have been well documented. Piers Paul Read wrote about the survivors’ experience in his book Alive: Sixteen Men, Seventy-Two Days, and Insurmountable Odds, which was later adapted for the screen. In a new article for The Guardian, one of the crash survivors, José Luis Inciarte, discussed his own experiences on the mountain and how they affected his life in the decades since.

Inciarte’s account of the crash is harrowing — at the age of 24, he witnessed the unthinkable. “In front of me, I saw a pile of bodies, but behind me there was nothing,” he recalls. “The back of the plane was gone. Mine was the last row left.”

He describes the “unthinkable” decision to begin “eating the frozen flesh of our dead friends.” He notes that members of the group offered to let their own bodies be eaten if they died so that their friends could survive. “Faced with death,” Inciarte says, “we all made a pact of love.”

There were more horrors to come for the survivors, including an avalanche that killed several. For Inciarte, the experience clarified his future — leading to his marriage and to his going into the family business. Now retired, he’s opted to look back on his life — including writing a book about his experiences — and ponder the sacrifices he witnessed along the way.

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