Newspapers, books and a film have told the story of the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972. However, Eduardo Strauch waited four decades to write his memoir of the days they spent high in the mountains on the edge of survival. In 2012, he published Desde el silencio (2012) along with writer Mireya Soriano. In 2019 Jennie Erikson translated the book into English.
I began reading the translation this month, thinking I knew all about their experience. I did not. I knew the beginning, middle and end of this tragic chain of events that left the rugby team and their supporters stranded in the mountains. From that I judged the choices they made to survive, without reading an eyewitness account. After finishing Eduardo Strauch’s book, I am less sure. As he tells it, every step sounded logical, the only decisions they could have made to live the 72 days until rescue. I found I could not dislike the narrator as the story progressed. Eduardo Strauch was factual, but he was also spiritual in how he chronicled his tale.
The survivors hoped to be rescued in the first week. But, the light colored plane was invisible from the air and several planes passed by them without seeing the crash site. Around a dozen people were killed upon impact that October 13, 1972. Those that remained alive were faced with one of the most difficult decisions a person can make. At 11,500 feet (3500 m), there are no plants, no animals, and very thin air. There was no way anyone would have made it two months without breaking a fundamental human taboo. Strauch chronicled his own disgust when he realized what they needed to do to survive. But he treated the subject with great respect, and compared it to communion. His comparison seemed genuine and heartfelt.
Strauch was able to find strength in the beauty of creation. This mystical experience is what gave him the power to live through such great adversity. Although in English, this plane accident is often referred to as the Andes disaster, in Spanish it is more often called El Milagro de los Andes, The Miracle of the Andes. I think that shows a fundamental cultural difference in how people frame the events of their lives, especially the worst crises. For the 16 men who did survive this harrowing experience, and especially their families, children and grandchildren, it is a miracle. Strauch wants his ashes scattered around the location of the milagro, at his life’s end.
If you like true adventure stories and have an open mind, I recommend Out of the Silence: After the Crash. If you read Spanish, I have a feeling the original book may have more poetic descriptions of the landscape.
Be well. ¡Olé! –Rebecca