They were faced with the most horrible dilemma - to eat the frozen flesh of their dead friends or they themselves would starve to death.
The 1972 plane crash in the Andes mountain range yielded one of the most famous survivor stories of all time, particularly because of the desperate measures the survivors had to do in order to stay alive. They were faced with the most horrible dilemma – to eat the frozen flesh of their dead friends or they themselves would starve to death.
The plane was carrying a rugby team from Uruguay when it crashed on October 13, 1972, in the Andes between Chile and Argentina. The crash killed 12 people immediately. Five more would die after a few hours and another one followed a week later. Eight more people perished when an avalanche happened 17 days after the crash.
Jose Luis Inciarte – known as ‘Coche’ – was one of the survivors. He and the others left were faced with brutal conditions – the high altitude, extreme cold weather, and very little food. During those 72 days prior to their eventual rescue, Coche and his companions had no choice but to consume the bodies of their dead friends.
Now an old man, Coche spoke about their harrowing experience on the British daytime show The Morning. He said that he had to “make a great effort of energy and mind” in order to make himself eat the flesh of his friends.
But he added that the story “doesn’t live with him.”
“There was no other option if you wanted to stay alive,” he said.
“We made a meeting between all and we argued whether to do it or not to do it, not to do it seemed to mean to die, everybody decided to eat.”
“When you went to take a piece of flesh, the body of your friend, their frozen body, the hand doesn’t obey and you have to make a great effort of energy and mind to make your arm obey, and then it obeys, not immediately.”
“It was the same with opening mouth to put it inside the mouth and swallow.”
The survivors made a pact to sacrifice their flesh if they died to help the others survive.
Those who remained alive were rescued nearly three months after the crash when two of the survivors hiked for 10 days to look for help and eventually encountered herdsman Sergio Catalán, who alerted the authorities.
When asked if he thought he would make it out of the mountains alive, Coche said: “Most days I thought I was going to go out from there… I had a great confidence with them to reach some place and they did it.”
“But other days, in those terrible days that we were waiting for them, I [thought] that they were not going to reach any place, so I put my date of dying on December 24.”
Coche wrote a book, Memories of the Andes, about their experience. Their ordeal was told in the 1993 movie Alive. Coche said that the film told their story fairly accurately and that some things were invented and others are true.
Coche, along with fellow survivors Roberto Canessa and Carlos Páez Rodríguez, returned to the scene of the plane crash years after.
The survivors’ forced cannibalism made headlines around the world. They faced backlash at first but eventually, the outcry died down and the families of those who were eaten became more understanding when they explained the pact that the survivors made.
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