While I was watching the miners in Chile getting rescued a few weeks ago, I was reminded of how powerful the human spirit and the will to survive truly are. No one can even begin to understand what those men were going through or the thoughts that were going through their minds while they were down there in that mine. It was hot, dark, sweaty, and not to mention the smell from the crapper as well. I was happy to see them all rescued and how that country and the world came together to help get them out of that mine. Even the company I work for was involved in what they called “plan C” and that was drilling a shaft to get them out. But “plan B” was the quickest to get to the miners and save them.
While I was watching them get rescued one by one, my mind wandered to other get rescues and great survivor stories throughout human history. I thought about the survivors of the USS Indianapolis during World War 2 where those sailors were in the waters of the South Pacific for a week with no water or food and sharks eating them. I thought about the stories of survival and heroism on 9/11 from the security director of Morgan Stanley in one of the towers who managed to get all but 6 or 7 employees out of over 2000 alive because he had drilled them monthly since the first attack on the towers in 1993. I also thought about the survivors of the Titanic and how they were in the cold wintery north Atlantic waiting to be rescued. And I also thought about the story of Apollo 13 and the story not just on the ground to figure out the solution but also the story in space.
Then it dawned on me about a story I was all too familiar with and honestly had forgotten about until then, and that story has to be the greatest survival story known to man (in my opinion). Back on Friday October 13th 1972 a plane took off from Uruguay (with a college rugby team and their family/friends aboard) and crashed into/onto a mountain in the Andes Mountains on the border between Chile and Argentina. Of the 45 people on the plane, 17 died either in the crash or shortly thereafter. The plane crashed at roughly 12,000 feet on a mountain and needless to say it was very cold there. The only food that they had was some chocolate and a few bottles of wine. And the only shelter that they had was the fuselage of the wrecked plane. None of the survivors had any winter clothing as October is the start of spring time in South America, and well they were dressed for sea level, not a crash landing in the mountains.
They had a small am radio and had heard that the search parties had given up the search for them after roughly a week due to the odds of them surviving were slim to none. Roughly two weeks after the crash an avalanche hit the remains of the airplane and killed 8 more people. Some others had died between the crash and the avalanche. At some point and time after the avalanche, the survivors had used sheets of metal from the plane to reflect sunlight and use it to melt snow for water to drink.
And at some point the remaining survivors ran out of food and had decided that the only way that they could survive was to eat from the dead bodies of their friends, family, and team mates. And as the bodies had been under snow and preserved, it was the only choice for them to make. So they wrestled with their religious beliefs (they were Catholic) and personal beliefs and decided to eat the dead as they felt that the dead would have wanted them to do it in order to survive.
On December 12th, two of the survivors loaded up some clothing and rations, and a “sleeping bag” that they had made, and set out to leave the mountain. They walked, climbed up, and went down many peaks over many miles on a roughly 10 day trek out of the mountains and into Chile. They were eventually rescued and led a team by helicopter to rescue the last of the survivors on December 22nd and 23rd. So in all they had spent 72 days on a mountain top at 12,000 feet in the snow, had very little protection from the elements, and had resorted to eating the bodies of the dead. Of the original 45 people on board the flight when it took off, 16 people were alive on the last day of the rescue.
Now I am not taking anything away from the miners in Chile when I say this, but I think the people on the mountain for those 72 days are part of the greatest survival story ever. The miners had an air shaft by which food, water, and air were sent down to them. Even at some point a guitar was sent down to them. They had people at the surface they could communicate with. The people on the mountain had nothing. No food, no winter clothing, no nothing other than the will to survive. Can you just imagine the decision to eat the bodies of your friends? Can you imagine living with that decision for the rest of your life? While I was watching the miners being rescued I shared the story of the Andes mountain plane crash with my kids. And they were shocked at the cannibalism part of the story. My son said he would not have done it, but my daughter said she would have done whatever was needed to survive. Now if I could just get them to clean up after themselves I would be happy.
If you have never heard of this story before, you can learn more about it by going here. Another great way to learn about the story of the crash and survival is to see the movie "Alive” from 1993. The movie does a really good job of telling the story and I HIGHLY suggest that you see it if you have not already seen it as it truly exemplifies the human spirit and the will to survive.