Book Excerpt: 'The Survivors Club'

It was Friday the thirteenth, and Nando Parrado and his rugby club were flying from Uruguay to Chile for a holiday weekend of sun, fun, and sport. For reasons still unknown, their twin-engine turboprop clipped a craggy peak in the Andes Mountains and crashed onto a glacier. Of the forty-five passengers aboard Flight 571, twelve died on impact and another ?ve per-ished that ?rst night in the freezing cold at twelve thousand feet. Parrado, a lanky twenty-one-year-old college student, lay for three days unconscious in a coma. His head was cracked open in four places. The other survivors had given up on him, dragging his body to a pile of the dead.

¿Nando, podés oírme? Nando, can you hear me?

Those were the first words Parrado remembers when he opened his eyes on October 16, 1972. Immediately he was puzzled: Why am I so cold? Why does my head ache so much? Parrado's hand moved to his temple. He found the ridges of the wounds above his right ear. When he pressed, he could feel what he calls "a spongy sense of give." The sensation was sickening, pressing his shattered skull into the surface of his brain. Parrado soon learned that his mother, Eugenia, had died in the crash. His nineteen-year-old sister, Susy, would later succumb to injuries and bitter cold, slipping away in his arms. Despite the devastating losses, Parrado refused to let himself shed a tear. A voice in his head told him: Do not cry. Tears waste salt. You will need salt to survive.

After sixty days on the glacier, facing slow starvation and imminent death, Parrado and two others embarked on a last-ditch "expedition" to save themselves. One of the men turned back after a day, leaving Parrado and Roberto Canessa to climb alone. With only the primitive tools they had scavenged from the shattered fuselage, they scaled a seventeen-thousand-foot mountain and discovered -- to their astonishment and disappointment -- that they were nowhere near civilization.

The plane had crashed right in the middle of the mountains, known as the cordillera, a lifeless expanse of ice. But they trekked for ten days with Parrado "pulling like a train, leading all the way," determined to save themselves and the rest of the group back at the crash site. Malnourished and exhausted, they somehow managed to walk forty-five miles through frozen wilderness, guided by what Parrado calls "an indestructible longing for home." When they ?nally came upon a man on horseback, they knew they were saved, and Parrado scrawled a note for the rescuers: Vengo de un avión que cayó en los montanos . . .

I come from a plane that fell in the mountains . . .

Later at the hospital, Parrado's father asked: "How did you survive, Nando? So many weeks without food . . ." Confronted with the horror of imminent starvation, Parrado said they had no choice. After intense debate, they decided to harvest and eat the ?esh of those who had perished. Without ? inching, his father replied: "You did what you had to do. I am happy to have you home."

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