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By Nando Parrado with Vince Rause
It was Friday, the thirteenth of October. We joked about that-flying over the Andes on such an afflicted day, but adolescent men accomplish those kinds of jokes so easily. Our flight had originated one day beforehand in Montevideo, my hometown, its destination Santiago, Chile. It was a accountant flight on a Fairchild twin-engine turboprop accustomed my rugby team-the Old Christians Rugby Club-to comedy an exhibition bout adjoin a top Chilean squad. There were blaster bodies aboard, including four aggregation members-pilot, copilot, mechanic, and steward. Best of the cartage were my teammates, but we were additionally accompanied by friends, ancestors members, and added supporters of the team, including my mother, Eugenia, and my adolescent sister, Susy, who were sitting beyond the alley and one row in advanced of me. Our aboriginal beat was to fly ceaseless to Santiago, a cruise of about three and a bisected hours. But afterwards aloof a few hours of flying, letters of bad acclimate in the mountains advanced affected the Fairchild’s pilot, Julio Ferradas, to put the alike bottomward in the old Spanish colonial boondocks of Mendoza, which lies aloof east of the Andean foothills.
We landed in Mendoza at lunchtime with hopes that we would be aback in the air in a few hours. But the acclimate letters were not encouraging, and it was anon bright that we would accept to break the night. None of us admired the abstraction of accident a day from our trip, but Mendoza was a absorbing place, so we absitively to accomplish the best of our time there. Some of the guys airy in sidewalk cafés forth Mendoza’s broad, tree-lined boulevards or went sightseeing in the city’s celebrated neighborhoods. I spent the afternoon with some accompany watching an auto chase at a clue alfresco of town. In the atramentous we went to a movie, while some of the others went dancing with some Argentinean girls they had met. My mother and Susy spent their time exploring Mendoza’s bizarre allowance shops, affairs presents for accompany in Chile and souvenirs for the bodies at home. My mother was abnormally admiring to acquisition a brace of red babyish shoes in a babyish boutique, which she anticipation would accomplish the absolute allowance for my sister Graciela’s new babyish boy.
Best of us slept backward the abutting morning, and aback we woke we were afraid to leave, but there was still no chat about our departure, so we all went our abstracted means to see a little added of Mendoza. Assuredly we accustomed chat to accumulate at the airport at 1:00 p.m. sharp, but we accustomed alone to ascertain that Ferradas and his copilot, Dante Lagurara, had not yet absitively whether or not we would fly. We reacted to this account with annoyance and anger, but none of us accepted the difficult accommodation against the pilots. The acclimate letters that morning warned of some turbulence forth our flight path, but afterwards speaking with the pilot of a burden alike that had aloof aureate in from Santiago, Ferradas was assured the Fairchild could fly cautiously aloft the weather. The added adverse botheration was the time of day. It was already aboriginal afternoon. By the time the cartage were boarded and all the all-important arrange were fabricated with airport officials, it would be able-bodied accomplished two o’clock. In the afternoon, balmy air rises from the Argentine foothills and meets the frigid air aloft the snowline to actualize betraying alternation in the atmosphere aloft the mountains. Our pilots knew that this was the best alarming time to fly beyond the Andes. There was no way to adumbrate area these bouncing currents ability strike, and if they got ascendancy of us, our alike would be tossed about like a toy.
On the added hand, we couldn’t break put in Mendoza. Our aircraft was a Fairchild F-227 that we had busy from the Uruguayan air force. The laws of Argentina forbade a adopted aggressive aircraft to break on Argentine clay best than twenty-four hours. Back our time was about up, Ferradas and Lagurara had to accomplish a fast decision: should they booty off for Santiago and adventurous the afternoon skies, or fly the Fairchild aback to Montevideo and put an end to our vacation?
As the pilots advised the options, our agitation grew. We had already absent a day of our Chilean trip, and we were balked by the anticipation of accident more. We were adventurous adolescent men, assured and abounding of ourselves, and it angered us that our vacation was bottomward abroad because of what we admired as the bashfulness of our pilots. We did not adumbrate these feelings. Aback we saw the pilots at the airport, we jeered and whistled at them. We teased them and questioned their competence. “We assassin you to booty us to Chile,” addition shouted, “and that’s what we appetite you to do!” There is no way to apperceive whether or not our behavior afflicted their decision-it did assume to agitate them-but finally, afterwards one aftermost appointment with Lagurara, Ferradas glanced about at the army cat-and-mouse agilely for an answer, and appear that the flight to Santiago would continue. We greeted this account with a disorderly cheer.
The Fairchild assuredly ancient from Mendoza Airport at eighteen account afterwards two o’clock, bounded time. As we climbed, the alike banked steeply into a larboard about-face and anon we were aerial south, with the Argentine Andes ascent to our appropriate on the western horizon. Through the windows on the appropriate ancillary of the fuselage, I gazed at the mountains, which thundered up from the dry plateau beneath us like a atramentous mirage, so austere and majestic, so astonishingly all-inclusive and huge, that the simple afterimage of them fabricated my affection race. Rooted in massive swells of basement with colossal bases that advance for miles, their atramentous ridges soared up from the flatlands, one aiguille bottleneck the next, so that they seemed to anatomy a colossal breastwork wall. I was not a poetically absorbed adolescent man, but there seemed to be a admonishing in the abundant ascendancy with which these mountains captivated their ground, and it was absurd not to anticipate of them as active things, with minds and hearts and an old absorption awareness. No admiration the ancients anticipation of these mountains as angelic places, as the doorstep to heaven, and as the abode abode of the gods.
Uruguay is a beneath country, and like best of my accompany on the plane, my ability of the Andes, or of any mountains at all, was bound to what I had apprehend in books. In academy we abstruse that the Andes ambit was the best all-encompassing abundance arrangement in the world, active the breadth of South America from Venezuela in the arctic to the southern tip of the abstemious in Tierra del Fuego. I additionally knew that the Andes are the second-highest abundance ambit on the planet; in agreement of boilerplate elevation, alone the Himalayas are higher.
I had heard bodies accredit to the Andes as one of the earth’s abundant geological wonders, and the appearance from the aeroplane gave me a belly compassionate of what that meant. To the north, south, and west, the mountains sprawled as far as the eye could see, and alike admitting they were abounding afar away, their acme and accumulation fabricated them assume impassable. In fact, as far as we were concerned, they were. Our destination, Santiago, lies about absolutely due west of Mendoza, but the arena of the Andes that separates the two cities is one of the accomplished sections of the absolute chain, and home to some of the tallest mountains in the world. Somewhere out there, for example, was Aconcagua, the accomplished abundance in the Western Hemisphere and one of the seven tallest on the planet. With a acme of 22,831 feet, it stands aloof 6,200 anxiety shy of Everest, and it has giants for neighbors, including the 22,000-foot Mount Mercedario, and Mount Tupongato, which stands 21,555 anxiety tall. Surrounding these behemoths are added abundant peaks with elevations of amid 16,000 and 20,000 feet, which no one in those agrarian alcove had anytime agitated to name.
With such aerial summits ascent forth the way, there was no adventitious that the Fairchild, with its best canoeing ambit of 22,500 feet, could fly a absolute east-west avenue to Santiago. Instead, the pilots had charted a advance that would booty us about one hundred afar south of Mendoza to Planchón Pass, a attenuated alley through the mountains with ridges low abundant for the alike to clear. We would fly south forth the eastern foothills of the Andes with the mountains consistently on our right, until we accomplished the pass. Again we’d about-face west and braid our way through the mountains. Aback we had austere the mountains on the Chilean side, we would about-face appropriate and fly arctic to Santiago. The flight should booty about an hour and a half. We would be in Santiago afore dark.
On this aboriginal leg of the trip, the skies were calm, and in beneath than an hour we had accomplished the about of Planchón Pass. I didn’t apperceive the name of the pass, of course, or any of the flight details. But I couldn’t advice acquainted that afterwards aerial for afar with the mountains consistently off in the western distance, we had banked to the west and were now aerial anon into the affection of the cordillera. I was sitting in a window bench on the larboard ancillary of the plane, and as I watched, the flat, characterless mural beneath seemed to bound up from the earth, aboriginal to anatomy asperous foothills, again bouncing and accedence up into the alarming convolutions of accurate mountains. Shark-finned ridges aloft themselves up like aerial atramentous sails. Menacing peaks pushed up like gigantic spearheads or the burst blades of hatchets. Attenuated arctic valleys broken the abrupt slopes, basic rows of deep, winding, snow-packed corridors that ample and bankrupt one aloft the added to actualize a wild, amaranthine bewilderment of ice and rock. In the Southern Hemisphere, winter had accustomed way to aboriginal spring, but in the Andes, temperatures still commonly biconcave to 35 degrees beneath aught Fahrenheit, and the air was as dry as a desert. I knew that avalanches, blizzards, and killing gale-force apprehension were accepted in these mountains, and that the antecedent winter had been one of the best astringent on record, with snowfalls, in some places, of several hundred feet. I saw no blush at all in the mountains, aloof aerial patches of atramentous and gray. There was no softness, no life, alone bedrock and snow and ice and as I looked bottomward into all that asperous wildness, I had to beam at the airs of anyone who had anytime anticipation that animal beings accept baffled the earth.
Watching out the window, I noticed that wisps of fog were gathering, again I acquainted a duke on my shoulder.
“Switch seats with me, Nando. I appetite to attending at the mountains.”
It was my acquaintance Panchito, who was sitting in the alley bench beside me. I nodded and rose from my seat. Aback I stood to change places addition yelled, “Think fast, Nando!” and I angry aloof in time to bolt a rugby brawl addition had tossed from the rear of the cabin. I anesthetized the brawl forward, and again sank into my seat. All about us there was bedlam and talking, bodies were affective from bench to seat, visiting accompany up and bottomward the aisle. Some friends, including my oldest amigo, Guido Magri, were in the aback of the alike arena cards with some aggregation members, including the flight steward, but aback the brawl began bouncing about the cabin, the abettor stepped advanced and approved to calm things down. “Put the brawl away,” he shouted. “Settle down, and amuse booty your seats!” But we were adolescent rugby players traveling with our friends, and we did not appetite to achieve down. Our team, the Old Christians from Montevideo, was one of the best rugby teams in Uruguay, and we took our approved matches seriously. But in Chile we would be arena an exhibition bout only, so this cruise was absolutely a anniversary for us, and on the alike there was the activity that the anniversary had already begun.
It was a accomplished affair to be traveling with my friends, these accompany especially. We had been through so abundant together-all the years of acquirements and training, the affecting losses, the hard-fought wins. We had developed up as teammates, cartoon from anniversary other’s strengths, acquirements to assurance one addition aback the burden was on. But the bold of rugby had not alone shaped our friendships, it had shaped our characters, and brought us calm as brothers.
Abounding of us on the Old Christians had accepted anniversary added for added than ten years, back our canicule as buck ruggers arena beneath the advice of the Irish Christian Brothers at the Stella Maris School. The Christian Brothers had appear to Uruguay from Ireland in the aboriginal 1950s, at the allurement of a accumulation of Catholic parents who capital them to begin a clandestine Catholic academy in Montevideo. Five Irish Brothers answered the call, and in 1955 they created the Stella Maris College, a clandestine academy for boys amid the ages of nine and sixteen, amid in the Carrasco neighborhood, area best of the acceptance lived.
For the Christian Brothers, the aboriginal ambition of a Catholic apprenticeship was to body character, not intellect, and their teaching methods fatigued discipline, piety, selflessness, and respect. To advance these ethics alfresco the classroom, the Brothers beat our accustomed South American affection for soccer-a bold that, in their view, fostered arrogance and egotism-and steered us against the rougher, earthier bold of rugby. For centuries, rugby had been an Irish passion, but it was around alien in our country. At aboriginal the bold seemed aberrant to us-so barbarous and aching to play, so abundant blame and advance and so little of soccer’s wide-open flair. But the Christian Brothers durably believed that the qualities appropriate to adept the action were the aforementioned characteristics one bare to alive a appropriate Catholic life-humility, tenacity, self-discipline, and adherence to others-and they were bent that we would comedy the bold and comedy it well. It did not booty us continued to apprentice that already the Christian Brothers set their minds to a purpose, there was little that could amplitude them. So we set abreast our soccer assurance and acquainted ourselves with the fat, acicular pigskin acclimated in rugby.
In long, boxy practices on the fields abaft the school, the Brothers started from scratch, conduct us in all the asperous intricacies of the game-mucks and rauls, scrumdowns and lineouts, how to bang and canyon and tackle. We abstruse that rugby players wore no pads or helmets, but still we were accepted to comedy aggressively and with abundant concrete courage. But rugby was added than a bold of animal strength; it appropriate complete strategy, quick thinking, and agility. Best of all the bold accepted that teammates advance an unshakeable faculty of trust. They explained that aback one of our teammates avalanche or is agape to the ground, he “becomes grass.” This was their way of adage that a downed amateur can be stomped on and trampled by the action as if he were allotment of the turf. One of the aboriginal things they accomplished us was how to behave aback a assistant becomes grass. “You charge become his protector. You charge cede yourself to absorber him. He charge apperceive he can calculation on you.”
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