How is it Possible to Survive Where One Does Not Survive?

Phil LeBlanc/Corbis

After the interview I had many years ago with Roberto Canessa and Álvaro Mengino I wrote Mientras hay vida, hay esperanza (While there is life there is hope), a part of the story of the survivors of the tragedy/miracle of Los Andes.

Today I received a text with this moving story from Fernando Parrado:

Some 45 people who were traveling in a Uruguayan Air Force plane to Chile collided with a mountain in the Andean Mountain range. Twelve people died at that moment (among them Fernando Parrado’s mother); five died the next day, and 8 days later Susana Parrado (Fernando’s sister) died due to her injuries.

Sixteen days later an avalanche claimed the lives of eight more, and two young men died in mid-November from infections from their injuries. The others completed 72 days in the mountains until they were rescued.

Fernando Parrado, one of the 16 survivors of the tragedy / miracle of Los Andes, recalling that story that astonished the world, managed to move a business forum and business training by transmitting the simple teachings that allowed him to live 72 days in the middle of the mountain range without water or food.

He narrated, with an intimate story full of anecdotes, the moments that marked him in that odyssey at 4,000 meters high in which he lost a good part of his friends, in addition to his mother and his sister. ‘How is it possible to survive where you do not survive?’ He asked himself.

We survived because there was leadership, decision-making, and team spirit, because we knew each other long before, he said. In life the luck factor is fundamental. When I arrived at the Montevideo airport, they did not give a seat number for the plane. I happened to be in row 9, along with my best friend.

When the plane collided with the mountain, it broke in two. From row 9 to the back there was nothing left. The 29 survivors of the first impact were traveling in the front part that was safe. Of these, 24 did not suffer a scratch. Thus, those less hit began to help, acting as a true team. They administered chocolate and peanut bars to the point of eating a grain for hours each. Marcelo, the captain and leader, assumed his role to contain them when they asked him what was happening, why the rescue did not arrive.

We decided to hold on. But a few days later Marcelo, the leader, fell apart. The radio brought the news that he had concluded the search to rescue us. How would you have reacted? The leader breaks down, becomes depressed and ceases to be. Imagine that I close this room, under the temperature of -14 degrees Celsius without water or food to wait who dies first.

Tomorrow the sun will rise and set as usual. Therefore, we had to make decisions. On the 12th or 13th night we said to one of the boys: “What are you thinking?” “The same as you. We must eat, and proteins are in the bodies”. We made a pact between us; it was the only option. We were faced with a stark and inhuman truth.

There was planning, strategy, development. Each one began to do something useful, to help us stay alive: shoes, walking sticks, small human expeditions. We got to know our ice prison. Until they chose me for the final expedition because the mountain was killing us, it was weakening us, we were running out of food. I climbed terrified to the top of the mountain with Roberto Canessa. We thought to see from there the green valleys of Chile, and we found snow and mountains at 360 degrees. That’s when I decided that I would die walking somewhere.

Then came the most unexpected moment. But…

This is not the story I came to tell.

Fernando Parrado said that his true story began when he returned to his house, without his mother or his sister, without his childhood friends and with his father with a new partner.

Crisis? What crisis are you talking about? Stress? What stress? Stress is being dead at 4,000 meters above sea level without water or food, he emphasized. You have to go through something like that to realize the difference between what is important and what is not. In general, I feel different in the perception of day-to-day problems: people get complicated, I became quite simple.

He recalled a fundamental dialogue he had with his father, who told him:

Look forward, forward, go after that girl you like, have a life, work! I made the mistake of not telling your mother so many things because I was so busy, not sharing so many festivities with your sister, not giving me the time to talk with them, not telling them how much I loved them. And he closed with determination: Work is important, but what is truly valuable is at home after work: the family.

Parrado concluded: My life changed, but the most valuable thing I lost was that home that no longer existed when I returned. Do not forget who you are next to, because you do not know what will happen tomorrow.

No success in life justifies failure in the family

If you have a warm home you are a lucky person and you are from row 9 to the front. And believe me… Most people ride from row 9 to the back!



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