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Book Review – Alive by Piers Paul Read

Imagine being stuck high up in the Andes mountains with no provisions or suitable winter clothing and running out of food. What would you do?

There are some incredible stories of human survival in the most extreme of circumstances but the tale of the Uruguayan rugby team, their families and a few other random passengers whose aircraft crashed in the Andes in 1972 is truly a remarkable one.

They had charted an Uruguayan military plane to take them to Chile to play some matches. Flying through the Andes in those days was not an easy task – but in a fairly rickety turboprop plane, it was a true challenge. So, it was not too surprising when the Fairchild FH-227D ended up crashing deep in the Andes with its 45 passengers. Some died in the impact but many somehow survived the crash. They had good expectations that they would be found, but the pilots had not followed their flight plans and the bad weather had forced them further off course.

The survivors had not planned for a winter holiday so they did not have suitable clothing or provisions – life soon became hard and there was a shortage of food. Soon it became obvious the only way they were not going to perish quickly was that they would have to undertake the gruesome task of eating the passengers who had died, and many of whom were friends and family. Desperate times call for desperate measures. 

Just as the survivors were getting into a routine and degree of comfort disaster struck in the form of an avalanche that buried parts of the aircraft in snow and killed several more while they slept. Things were going from bad to worst and some of those with the most severe injuries were struggling and some even passed away. 

It had been about 2 months since the crash and everyone was starting to give up hope. Of the 45 who set out, just 13 remained alive. The last roll of the dice was to send a small team of three out to cross the mountains to find help without much in the way of provisions and no mountaineering equipment. 

The author, Piers Paul Reid, wrote this book just a couple of years after the tragedy and was able to talk to those who were involved while their memories were still fresh. He goes into great detail (a warning for those who are little squeamish) and tells the stories of those stranded in the mountains and their frantic families who seek answers not knowing whether their loved ones were alive or dead. This is an amazing story of survival and heroism in a time when the technology was not around to aid the search for the crash site. It is one of the most incredible adventure stories I have ever read about.

Title:Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors
Author:Piers Paul Reid
Publisher:HarperCollins Publishers (2002)
Available:Amazon; Barnes & Noble

Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read

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