I first read the superb book Alive back when it came out in the mid-70s, and immediately became fascinated by the harrowing tale it tells of the survivors of the 1972 Andes plane crash. I wrote a little bit about them in this piece for RightNetwork about leadership under extreme conditions, comparing and contrasting their situation with that of the Chilean miners.
Then, coincidentally, I noticed there was a documentary being shown on the History Channel Wednesday night entitled, “I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash.” It’s recent, and excellent. Even though I knew the story of their 72-day ordeal very well and thought there wasn’t much new for me to learn about it in a 2-hour film, this one was loaded with information I’d neither heard nor read before, as well as visuals that made previously murky facts very clear.
But best of all were the interviews with Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa and a couple of the other now-60ish survivors, and a trip back to the site by an experienced climber who tried to retrace their steps and found how extraordinarily difficult their feat was (they had never seen snow before their ordeal began, nor done any mountain climbing). Even watching TV in the warmth and safety of one’s home, the mind reels at the shots of the terrain that faced them—rugged mountains stretching as far as the eye could see into a vast distance—and at the knowledge that, nevertheless, the young Parrado and Canessa climbed out of there while starving, unequipped and freezing, spurred on by the knowledge that the search had long ago been called off, and that this was the last and only chance for them—and for the fourteen other young men they had left behind to wait in the plane’s fuselage for rescue or for death.
The documentary is an unusual combination: part sensationalist adventure/endurance story, part psychological thriller, and part testament to the human spirit and the overwhelming power of love. At the end, there were tears streaming down my cheeks.
If you want to watch it (or Tivo it for later), the film repeats on the History Channel at 5 PM Eastern time on Saturday, Oct 23. And if all else fails, you can buy it.