1972 Crash Survivor Recalls Descent Into Cannibalism

Roberto Canessa has written a new book on the ordeal in the Andes
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 25, 2016 2:00 AM CST
1972 Crash Survivor Recalls Descent Into Cannibalism
Sergio Catalan, left, embraces Roberto Canessa, one of 16 Uruguayan rugby players who survived 72 days in the Andes. Catalan alerted Chilean authorities, leading to the rescue.   (AP Photo/Marcelo Hernandez)

"It was our final goodbye to innocence," writes Roberto Canessa, describing the decision he and his fellow survivors made to consume the flesh of those who died when their plane slammed into the Andes in October 1972. In I Had to Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired My Calling to Save Lives, Canessa recounts the nightmarish ordeal in which he and 15 others (29 died) survived more than two months stranded in the frigid mountains, People reports. The story was dramatized in the 1993 film Alive, and the new book is out on March 1. A 19-year-old medical student at the time of the crash, Canessa is now a pediatric cardiologist.

He speaks of the "very humble" shepherd who played a crucial role in the survivors' eventual rescue. "Now," Canessa says, "when I have the chance to save the heart of a baby ... I believe I am giving back what the shepherd gave me." In an excerpt of his book published by the Daily Mail, Canessa shares poignant details from the crash and its aftermath:

  • "I held on to my seat so fiercely that I tore off chunks of fabric with my bare hands. Bowing my head, I waited for the final blow that would send me into oblivion. But it didn't happen."
  • People reports Canessa first raised the idea of cannibalism. "I will never forget that first incision nine days after the crash. Four of us ... with a razor-blade or shard of glass in his hand, carefully cutting the clothes off a body whose face we could not bear to look at."
  • "We laid the thin strips of frozen flesh aside on a piece of sheet metal. Each of us finally consumed our piece when we could bear to."
  • When the decision was made that he and two others would venture to find help, Canessa writes, "All I could think about, with terror in my head and heart, was the sheer walls of ice that lay between us and salvation."
Read more of his harrowing account here. (Members of this ill-fated 19th-century voyage also resorted to cannibalism.)

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