Saturday, January 17, 2015

Book Review: They Lived On Human Flesh

This is a book written by Enrique Hank Lopez about an amazing true story that happened less than a year before this book came out. This true story involved 45 people flying to Chili aboard a charter Air Force plane from Uruguay. Most of these people were young men who were part of a Christian Rugby team flying to play a match in Chili.

On October 13th 1972, this airplane crashed into the Andes mountains after the pilot took a mistaken route because of stormy weather. Amazingly, after the plane clipped the peaks of the Andes mountains, the fuselage (main part of the plane) barreled down the mountainside and stopped. 26 of the 45 passengers were still alive after this initial crash. They were now stranded in the middle of the Andes.

That is the beginning of this amazing story, and this book is a very good read for someone who wants to learn more about this tragedy that unfolded. There is a movie written about this called Alive.

Before I get into this story some, I just want to relay the impact this book had on me. I heard about this accident before when I was younger and the movie came out. I didn't think much about it except to have vague thoughts of people eating each other. Hearing about people eating each other never leaves your mind completely, but it wasn't until I read this book that I realized what an amazing true story this was. I went on to watch the movie, documentaries, clips and interviews of the survivors, and thought about this for weeks.

I wasn't fascinated as much with the cannibalism, but more so with the courage and absolute nightmarish tragedy this must have been for these young men. All of these rugby players where either in their late teens or early twenties trying to survive in the middle of the Andes. Although they bore the Christian name for their rugby team, in reality they were Catholics. That doesn't mean they weren't true believers in their hearts though, but I thought I would make the distinction.

The author Enrique Hank Lopez was not the official writer the survivors picked to write the story, but was more a freelance writer picking up the pieces from the reports and testimonies of the survivors and those around them after the rescue. This adds a unique perspective, and I would add that he does an excellent job in imagining the actuality of the incident. 
The movie was a disappointment for the most part, although I'm glad they made it. 

Now let me give you a summary of the story:
After the crash, they realized they were in the middle of the high mountains with snow and below freezing temperatures. They only had a couple hours after the crash to get ready for that first night in the Andes which was around 30 below! They weren't dressed warmly either, because they were from a warm weather climate and were going to a warm weather climate. The clothes they did have were in the tail section of the plane, which was torn off during the crash and was nowhere to be found. They spent that first night trying to help the wounded and stay warm enough to not freeze to death.

cc from Nando (left) and Canessa (right) with rescuer on horse

Fernando Parrado, who ended up being the leader and savior of the group was thought to be dead after the crash and left outside with the dead bodies that first night. The co-pilot was mortally wounded and wanted them to shoot him. They didn't, but he died that first night. I believe another person who was mortally wounded died that night as well. Fernando (Nando) had his mother and sister on the plane with him, his mother died in the crash, while his sister was badly wounded.

Amazingly, Nando awakened from a coma after a few days, spending the nights in the 30 below weather, walked among the group who thought he was dead. He took some time to recover and then helped his sister as much as he could.

I just want to add when I summarize this story, that I'm not going to tell you the whole story. I would have to write the book to do that. If you want to read the whole story, buy the book, watch the documentary, or the movie.

All of these people are significant to note, but the two that I'm going to mention are the two that eventually hiked 40 miles through the Andes and found help for the others to get rescued. Nando was one and the other was named Roberto Canessa. Roberto was a medical student and also a leader. This book has 16 pages of pictures of the crash, the survivors, including Nando and Canessa after they found help 72 days after the crash. (google Andes Plane crash 1972 for more amazing pics)

These survivors had enough food only for about 10 days. They did find a battery radio in which they heard that the search was being called off. These two factors and the dangerous cold conditions led them to start thinking about eating the already dead to survive. In this book, an older man who survived the crash, but was mortally wounded, before he died after a week or so – told Roberto and Nando that they would have to eat the dead to survive. This story of this man wasn't told in any other depiction of the incident.

Nando's sister died after a week or so as well. Nando wanted to stay alive and see his father again. He told one of the other survivors that he wanted to hike out of the mountains. He said he would eat the pilot for food to have the strength. Nando put words to the thoughts many of them were having. Roberto relayed the scientific reality and the fact that the flesh of the dead would give them the protein they needed to survive. The climate was so cold and the area so remote, there was nothing with life anywhere to be found. It was either eat the dead or die.

 One of the survivors choose to die instead, as he couldn't bring himself to eat the dead. The movie and other depictions also don't relay this as well as this book does. It's almost as if they didn't want people to know there was someone who thought it was so wrong to eat the dead, that he would rather die himself. This obviously made the others question themselves and their salvation with God. As these were young men and people who believed in the Bible for the most part.

In my opinion, this group of people only made it through because of their faith in God, and I could only imagine the choice they had to make concerning eating dead humans to survive. I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision, and it likely haunts them to this very day. Eventually after all was said and done, the 16 people who survived the tragedy wouldn't be alive today if they wouldn't have done what they did.

After they decided to eat the dead humans, there was another tragedy in the middle of the crisis they were in. An avalanche come down into the fuselage while they slept. The snow filled the fuselage and buried almost everyone. The few who were free dug the others out, but when it was over there were 8 people who died because of the avalanche. The snow storm raged outside of the fuselage and the survivors were stuck in the fuselage on top of the packed snow that came in for three days and nights! Eventually, they were able to get out when the storm passed. Now there was only 16 survivors left.

At times, they tried to hike out and see what was around them, but they couldn't get very far at all. They did finally find the tail section with a battery they could try to get the radio to work with. They never were able to get it to work.

Nando knew he was going to have to hike out of there if he or they were going to survive. He picked Roberto as his hiking companion because of his toughness and skills. The group rigged up some makeshift provisions like a sleeping bag made of insulation and snow shoes made of seat cushions. Then after about 62 days, they decided to head out and climb a nearby mountain to see what was on the other side. Nando thought for sure that the green valleys of Chili were on the other side. After three days of a grueling below 0 hike, they reached the top of this huge mountain. To their dismay all they saw was more mountains and snow as far as they could see!

Nando and Canessa thought they were dead for sure after this. Yet, Nando knew that going back to the fuselage meant they were all going to die, and he would have to eat his mother and sister whose bodies they hadn't eaten yet. So, with a slight glimmer of hope of a far away dark patch between a couple mountains, he thought may be snow-less valley, Nando and Roberto carried on their hike. There was a third man who went on the mountain hike with them, but they sent him back after the climb because they needed his food supply.

Amazingly, these two young men hiked for TEN DAYS in the Andes during the storms, snow, and below freezing weather! The end result was after nine days about they reached a patch of land where no snow was, they then reached some water and trees and knew they were close to being saved. They spotted some cows and then they spotted a man on a horse across the river they were walking along. This man eventually went and got some help for the two and they were finally saved.

After 72 days, the families and news all but wrote these people off for dead. The news went out very quickly that two of the survivors had been found. Nando and Roberto were rode into a small town outside the Andes and there were reporters already there to take their picture and ask them questions. They wanted to know how they survived for that long?

Nando got into a helicopter and helped the pilot find his way to the other survivors. Eight of them were taken right then, and the other eight were taken the next day. The storms, time of day, and winds caused this delay. There were three Alpine rescuers dropped off to stay the night with the remaining eight survivors with food and drink. These rescuers were aghast at the carnage they saw. Human remains were laying around and pieced of human flesh were still hanging from the fuselage where they let them drain before eating. This book in particular details this account better than any other depiction I've seen. The rescuers had much empathy for the survivors, but were also horrified at the same time.

The story goes on from there to talk about the time after the rescue. There are many interesting pictures in the book of them after their rescue. Pictures that stick in your mind and show the humanity in these young men after this horrifying experience where they assuredly didn't think they would ever survive. The survivors were especially very sensitive about finding out if what they did was wrong. They wanted acceptance for what they had done. They had obviously already came to terms with it, but were afraid of what other people would think, especially since the story was nearly world-wide at this time.

At first, the reporters were staved of by the doctors and others trying to protect the survivors and their sensitivity, but eventually they newspapers blurted out what everyone was thinking and the whole world knew how these young rugby players survived for 72 days in the middle of the Andes.

Nando Parrado is a very interesting and inspiring character, and he and Roberto Canessa were and are still the most outspoken of the survivors. All 16 of these survivors are still alive to this day. They get together every year for a survivor reunion.
That is the summary of this story and book. There is much more to it than I could summarize in such an article. This allows you to search and seek it out for yourself if you feel so inclined. I'm going to leave some Youtube videos, a link to the book to buy on Ebay(the copy I read) and Amazon, and a picture.

To me this story was very compelling. The characters were so interesting and courageous in a sense. The utter horror and tragedy this event involved and the difficult decision they had to make to survive or not. The whole story is compelling and amazing. I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing as a young man with my life ahead of me. Maybe it's easier to say we would rather die than eat the remains of dead humans when we are older and have made our peace with God, but if you were their age this is a different story. They didn't do anything the Lord can't forgive them for, but I can imagine what they did will always be on their minds until they die.

I wanted to make this article a one-stop place to delve into this story for those like me who were utterly compelled by it. There are copies of this compelling book available on Amazon if interested. Thanks for coming by.  

"Trapped" National Geographic Documentary:


       Nando Parrado now, short interview segment:


1 comment:

  1. Hey--just thought you might want to know that it's "Chile", not "Chili". Not trying to be snarky, but the incorrect spelling takes away from your otherwise fine review. Also, if you're interested, there is a third book beyond this one and "Alive" by Piers Paul Read that is titled "Survive", by Clay Blair Jr. That is the novel that the first motion picture adaptation was based around, which is also called "Survive", released in 1976. There are many critics of this film that claim it to be more exploitative in nature, but while the promotional materials for it seem to back that up, the film itself--especially the original version before it's American redub--actually seem to be more realistic. Anyway, just thought I would mention that since you had brought up your personal interest.


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