Monday, January 28, 2008


The tale of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 which crashed in the Andes in October 1972 was first related to me by V. Some time later we watched the movie version, Alive, and then I read the book by Piers Paul Read who, like many of the survivors, interpreted their extraordinary experiences through the prism of Catholic faith.

This weeked however, whilst channel surfing, we caught possibly the most revealing account of all: the BBC4 Storyville documentary entitled Stranded! Mediated only through the editing process, this was a collection of interviews with the survivors, family and the men involved in the search and rescue operation, some of which were filmed as they returned to the site of the crash (En el Valle de las Lagrimas).

The most striking thing about these testimonies is how as individuals they felt they had fallen off the edge of civilisation, but how their beliefs and, in the case of most of the survivors, their shared membership of the Old Christians rugby team, helped them to engage in decisive collective action at the moment they realised that the search for the wreckage had been called off.

This news reached them on a small transistor radio, and I was touched by Canessa's account of how he tuned into news of the coming summer down in the world they had become so utterly detached from, where young girls were reported to be coming out in short skirts to buy ice cream, while he was busy munching grissle cut from a frozen corpse.

The incident has an official website in Uruguay. (Turn off your speakers if you don't want to hear Aaron Neville singing Ave Maria.)

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