A Uruguayan rugby team played a match that was postponed for four decades when their plane crashed in the Andes, stranding them for 72 days in the cordillera and forcing them to eat human flesh to stay alive.
The Old Christians Club squared off Saturday in Santiago against the Old Grangonian Club, the former Chilean rugby team they were to have played to mark the 40th anniversary of the crash made internationally famous by a best-selling book and a Hollywood movie.
Honoring the victims. The survivors (Photos: AP)
"At about this time we were falling in the Andes. Today we're here to win a game," Pedro Algorta, 61, a survivor of the crash said as he prepared to walk onto the playing field surrounded by the jagged mountains that trapped the group.
Military jets flew over the field, where parachutists in Chilean and Uruguayan flags landed. Survivors wept when officials unveiled a commemorative frame with pictures of those who died in the snowy peaks.
Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, also known as the Andes flight disaster, was a chartered flight carrying 45 people, including a rugby team, their friends, family and associates that crashed in the Andes on 13 October 1972.
The crash killed more than a quarter of the passengers and several others quickly succumbed to the freezing weather. Eight more were killed when an avalanche swept over the survivors' shelter, perched at over 3,600 meters altitude
The last 16 survivors were rescued on 23 December 1972, more than two months after the crash. Faced with starvation, and as hopes for a rescue mission dwindled, they made the near-impossible choice of eat flesh from the bodies of their dead comrades in order to survive.
Survivors Eduardo Strauch and Daniel Fernandez
"I think the greatest sadness I felt in my life was when I had to eat a dead body," said Roberto Canessa, 59, who was a teenage medical student at the time of the crash.
"I would ask myself: Is it worth doing this? And it was because it was in order to live and preserve life, which is exactly what I would have liked for myself if it had been my body that lied on the floor," he said.
Exasperated by more than two months in the frigid cordillera, Canessa and Fernando Parrado left the crash site to seek help.
After 10 days of trekking, they spotted a livestock herder in the foothills of the Chilean Andes who rode his horse to the nearest town to alert rescuers.
"I came back to life after having died. It's something that very few people experience," said Parrado, who has been a TV host, motivational speaker and race car driver. "Since then, I have enjoyed fully, carefully but without fear."
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