The story behind the Oscar-nominated Latin American film Society of the Snow far surpasses fiction. The ill-fated Flight 571 of the Uruguayan Air Force, scheduled to land in Santiago de Chile on October 13, 1972, never reached its destination.
On board were members of the Old Christians Club rugby team from Montevideo, along with family and friends. A day’s layover in Mendoza was extended due to adverse weather and led to a fatal miscalculation by the pilots.
The Andes miracle
The accident of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 took place on October 13, 1972, when the Fairchild FH-227D crashed in the Andes mountain range.
The aircraft began to descend earlier than anticipated and collided with a mountain, resulting in the separation of wings and tail. On the plane were five crew members and 40 passengers, including members of the Old Christians Club rugby team.
Thirteen people died from the initial impact and extreme conditions. The survivors faced difficulties such as cold, thirst, and hunger, leading them to resort to cannibalism.
In December, two survivors, Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa, climbing a peak at 4,650 meters without equipment, managed to reach Chile and were rescued on December 21. On December 23, 1972, 72 days after the accident, the last survivors who had remained in the fuselage were rescued.
The Andes tragedy also became known as the Andes miracle due to the astonishing survival and rescue of some of the passengers.
A surge in expeditions
Decades later, the tragic expedition continues to captivate public interest. Companies now offer guided treks to the crash site during the summer months, attracting over a hundred enthusiasts each weekend. The journey, reaching an altitude of about 3,600 meters, provides a glimpse into the remnants of the plane, the memorial, and the chilling echoes of the survivors’ ordeal.
Gonzalo Noste, an experienced mountaineer, notes that interest has surged, especially after the Netflix film the Society of the Snow. “It’s one of my favorite hikes—a moderate challenge with minimal climbing. With the Netflix movie’s popularity, first-time mountain explorers join the treks,” he explains.
The trail of remnants
Despite the military burning the fuselage months after the rescue, vestiges of the tragedy remain. The memorial site, a few meters from where the fuselage rested, now has a heap of plane fragments—iron pieces, motor remnants, and windows. Some artifacts, like pieces of clothing and metal, emerge as the summer sun melts the glacier.
Intriguingly, the Andean landscape, with its valleys, rivers, glaciers, and solitude, continues to fascinate. Leandro Scheurle from Argentina Extrema notes the allure of the scenery and isolation, creating a unique and unforgettable experience.
A spiritual space
The expeditions are not merely morbid curiosity. Noste emphasizes that the aim is to connect spiritually with the mountains and the survivors’ extraordinary story, discouraging any intentions of ghoulish tourism. Though the site attracts people, it remains a sacred space for reflection on human resilience.