Literature Study Guide
Alive: The Story
of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read
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Alive is the story of an airplane
flight that crashed over the Andes Mountains. It is also the story of how some
of the stranded passengers survived following the crash and their reintegration
into the society they left behind. Upon its departure on October 12, 1972, the
Fairchild flight carried forty-five people. This number included the Old
Christians Rugby team, of which there were fifteen team members, who had
charted the plane. Also on board were twenty-five friends and family of the
team and the plane's crew of five. All of the Old Christians team players were
alumni of Stella Maris College and as such they had long-standing friendships.
They were in jovial spirits when they boarded the plane in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Air patterns in the Andes
treacherous. The plane was grounded in the afternoon because of poor weather
but resumed its flight the following day under more favorable conditions. The
flight seemed to be going well, and the pilot prepared to descend to their
destination, Santiago. A minute later the plane lost all contact and plummeted
into the Andes mountain range.
The Chilean and
governments searched for the lost plane for
eight days with no results. During this, time the survivors of the crash took
inventory and tended to the wounded as much as possible. They subsided off very
little food. The Fairchild was not stocked with food, so the meager nourishment
available to them consisted of souvenirs purchased for friends and
family--mostly chocolate and wine. The area in which they crashed was barren of
life, and it was winter, so there were no natural resources (aside from frozen
water) to forage. After two full weeks in the mountains, the survivors were
weak. Even though they rationed the food and divided it equally, it had run
out. They were now full into the winter season, and conditions grew increasingly
harsh. An avalanche over came them while they were sleeping, and another eight
lives were lost. Morale was low and the passengers began to think less of being
rescued and more about surviving until
rescue would be feasible. In order to facilitate this they began to eat the
muscle and flesh of their deceased peers, whose bodies had been preserved in
the sub zero conditions since the day of the crash.
While the decision to eat human
flesh was difficult, it was necessary. This source of nourishment lasted them
through the winter. Through some ingenious designing, they cooked meat, made
mittens, and created hammocks in which the wounded to rested. They selected two
strong men to hike out of the mountains and find help for the others. When
came, the two men were finally ready. The two
, set out with their make-shift gear and frozen meat
stores. They trekked a grueling sixty miles through snow-covered mountains
before finding civilization. Because of the altitude, the hike took ten days.
It had been a total of seventy days since the Fairchild had crashed. While the
government agencies had officially stopped the search months earlier, they
resumed the search after
return. The remaining survivors were evacuated on
December 22, 1972. All were brought first to a base camp, then inland to the
hospital of St. John of God in San Fernando. Amazingly, their injuries were
few, although they had all suffered from starvation and its associated weight
loss. The survivors' reunions with their friends and family were bittersweet.
The men had been barely surviving for so long that the world to which they
returned was overly stimulating. Their newfound appreciation for life and God
made everything else seem unimportant and excessive. The media jeered and took
pictures, but for the most part the men, newly accustomed to quiet, just wished
Summary and Analysis
Alive is the story of an airplane
flight that crashed over the Andes
. It is
also the story of how some of the stranded passengers survived following the
crash and their reintegration into the society they left behind. The passengers
were united through the Old Christians rugby team. Fifteen passengers were
players, but an additional twenty-five passengers were friends and family of
the players. Long before the team came together, the men were boys growing up
in the country of Uruguay.
Uruguay is one of the smallest
countries in South America. At the time that the author wrote the book, much of
the country existed as lush pasture land. The largest city, Montevideo, was
more densely populated and housed a mercantile class. Uruguay was relatively
peaceful in the 1970's, but prior to that, the country experienced much instability.
Uruguay fought for its independence from its neighbors, Argentina and Brazil.
After gaining its independence, the country faced inner turmoil.
The two major parties were the conservative
from the interior and the
from the city. The two parties were
fiercely competitive and the politics were entrenched over the course of
generations. In 1904 the Colorado party president defeated the conservative
party and created a democratic state.
The country exported goods at a favorable price, but when the economy
declined, the country again fell into turmoil. In opposition to this decline, a
revolutionary group, the
, was born.
utilized such tactics as kidnapping, ransom and corrupting the government agencies.
The guerrilla movement was having an
, and the
army was dispatched to quench the revolt.
By the 1950's the citizens were searching for stability. Despite the
political tensions surrounding them, parents hoped for a great future for their
children. The school systems in place at that time lacked the religious
qualities the parents sought, so they invited a group of Christian brothers
from Ireland to start a school in Montevideo. The brothers agreed to the
teaching requirements and were quite happy with their new charge in Uruguay.
They brought with them their love for rugby, which slowly replaced the local
love of soccer. The school, called Stella Maris College, taught boys aged nine
to sixteen in fundamental subjects with conservative Catholic undercurrents.
The school was so highly regarded that its graduates created an alumni rugby
In 1971, the Old Christians rugby
team decided to play a championship game abroad. The championship was scheduled
for October 1972, in Chile and the team secured air passage. The team privately
chartered a plane, which officially belonged to the Uruguayan government.
Inviting friends and family who could pay
their own way defrayed the cost for each player, thus making the trip feasible.
The players looked forward to the tournament and also to a short vacation
On October 12 the excited
passengers began to arrive at the Carrasco airport for their departure. The
passengers were jubilant and talked animatedly amongst themselves. Also present
, the captain, and his co-pilot,
. They both had flying experience,
had experience flying over the
dangerous cordillera of the Andes
The plane, Fairchild number 571,
took off at 8:05 a.m. on October 12. Its scheduled destination was Santiago,
Chile. The plane had accumulated only 792 hours since its purchase from the
USA. The plane was in good mechanical condition and
was familiar with it. The flying conditions were more of a concern. The Andes
were renowned for powerful and dangerous air
currents. Only three months before, a cargo plane had disappeared in the
mountains. With the plane traveling at 240 knots the journey was expected to
take about four hours, the last half hour of which would be over the Andes
. By leaving at roughly eight in the morning, the
pilot hoped to avoid the mid-day turbulence, which was known to occur. Even
without turbulence, the pilots still had to take into consideration the
limitations of the aircraft. The Fairchild was not equipped to climb higher
than 22,500 feet, although many of the peaks in the mountain range exceeded
that. Therefore, the pilot and his co-pilot were balancing the altitude,
turbulence and visibility on that day. After witnessing the conditions as he
approached the Andes, the pilot decided to land the plane in Mendoza, Argentina
and wait for better weather. The young men and their acquaintances disembarked
and enjoyed some local food and entertainment. After a night's rest in the
local inn, all the passengers boarded the plane again the following day
afternoon for the last leg of their trip. The flight was running smoothly and
the pilot radioed in that they had flown over a landmark, the town of
in Chile. That was the last radio transmission ever
heard from the Fairchild.
The steward announced bad weather
ahead but reassured the passengers that they would land soon. The plane lurched
and its wing came dangerously close to touching the mountains it flew between.
This unnerved the passengers and they began to pray. Moments later the plane's
right wing did make contact and was torn off, thrown and cut off the plane's
tail. The destabilized plane then lost its left wing and propeller. Without its
wings the fuselage fell and slid down the steep valley. In addition to losing
many passengers and the steward, the force of the crash pinned additional
passengers between the heavy, metal seats and walls of the plane. When the
remaining passenger portion of the plane stopped its descent the survivors were
in shock. Those that were both conscious and coherent searched amongst the
wreckage. They pulled the injured people from
and helped them as much as they
could. In the distance they saw a lone team mate staggering through the snow
but were unable to reach him before he wandered away. Two of the passengers,
, were medical
students. They were in their first and second
schooling, respectively, and had
rudimentary knowledge and skills. Three passengers, Eugenia
and Mr. and Mrs. Nicolas, died instantly. Of the thirty-two survivors, many
people had serious injuries. Others had only superficial injuries yet were in a
complete state of shock.
The plane had crashed at
approximately 3:30 in the afternoon. Night came fast- the sun was setting, the
temperature was decreasing and snow began falling. The passengers were not
dressed for cold weather and the rear of the fuselage was an open, jagged tear
which left them exposed to the elements. The pilot was confirmed dead on
impact. The co-pilot was alive but badly injured (the instrumentation panel was
impaling his chest) and trapped in his seat. He mumbled repeatedly about their
and asked for help locating his
revolver. The passengers responded only by giving him water to drink and he
eventually died the next day.
Meanwhile the survivors,
knowing that a rescue could not happen in the darkness of night, huddled
together in the broken fuselage for their first night.
The twenty foot
long area was cramped with mangled seats and this left little room for people.
The injured alternated between screams of pain and incoherent chatter and those
that were relatively healthy were hungry.
On the morning of Saturday,
October 14 the survivors awoke and examined their surroundings. Three more
people had died during the night. The medical students continued to care for
the sick. They were aided by
whose gentle nature made her a great nurse. As a
mother of four,
was devoted to her children
and husband, Javier. She and Javier had boarded the plane in the hopes of
taking a trip to celebrate their twelfth anniversary. Once outside the
survivors learned that the plane had landed on its side and was half buried in
was endless and
no vegetation of any kind.
was not stocked with food, so the meager nourishment available to them
consisted of souvenirs purchased for friends and family in Mendoza- mostly
chocolate and wine. The little food available was rationed amongst them. On
Sunday, October 15 they awoke to a beautiful, clear day. They were optimistic
that a rescue would be possible. While they
party they quenched their immediate thirst. Adolfo (
devised a snow
melting system by harnessing solar energy. This water was important for their
survival. The days passed this way- some survivors were responsible for melting
snow, others for tidying up the cabin, and still others for rationing and
distributing food. Occasionally planes could be heard in the distance and a few
came near, increasing their hopes for rescue. Roberto
was easily irritable. His volatile nature made him not well liked amongst the
survivors but he was strong and clever.
a sort of hammock for the most injured. This increased their comfort and made
more floor space for the others.