“I Had To Eat a Piece of My Friend to Survive”

On October 13th, 1972, the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into the Andes mountain range in South America. There was a total of 45 passengers on the flight, and only 27 passengers survived the initial crash. Rescue parties searched extensively and after 10 days, the passengers were presumed dead and the search ceased.

Survivors desperately began to search for resources. These efforts soon became fruitless, as they continued to search on the snow covered mountain that lacked any natural vegetation or livestock. Under harsh weather conditions, the survivors were soon faced with a difficult and unforgiving choice. As a group, they made the collective decision to eat the flesh of their dead friends. Nando Parrado, one of the survivors states, “again and again I came to the same conclusion: unless we wanted to eat the clothes we were wearing, there was nothing here but aluminum, plastic, ice, and rock” (Miracle In the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home). 

"Survivors: Passengers shelter near the tail of the Uruguayan plane which hit a mountain shrouded in mist as it flew from Santiago to Montevideo."

“Survivors: Passengers shelter near the tail of the Uruguayan plane which hit a mountain shrouded in mist as it flew from Santiago to Montevideo.”

What I found interesting was that the surviving passengers were all Roman Catholics, and initially, they were against the act of cannibalism,  but soon realized it was their only means of survival. They began to justify their actions with bible verses and compared the act of eating their dead friends to the rituals present in the Holy Communion. By using religious context to condone their behavior, it decreased their levels of guilt and humiliation. Many argued that the pain experienced by their loved ones would be more severe than the act of dying itself.

One of the survivors of the crash was a second year medical student, Roberto Canessa, who had successfully managed to objectify the deceased loved ones into sources of protein and fat. My question is, at what point do your friends and colleagues transform into simple cadavers, despite extreme conditions? Every individual has the right to be buried with dignity and in accordance with their personal beliefs, because even in death, they still maintain their identity as a human being.






One response to ““I Had To Eat a Piece of My Friend to Survive”

  1. When presented with a situation as dire as this plane crash, the natural human instinct is to do whatever it takes to survive. In this case, that meant consuming a human body, and in the process transforming a person into a pile of flesh and bone. I think this transformation may have been easier to carry out than expected for several reasons. First, the people were already dead. It wasn’t as if they had to decide who to kill first, then carry out a premeditated murder, then eat them. They had died, tragically yes, but accidentally, and there was no way to bring them back. They were a ready food source, and it just took a dire situation to realize this. Second, I think the fact that they were in a large group helped a lot. There are numerous proven sociological theories about group mentality, and one of them is that people are often heavily influenced by peers to go along with a certain behavior. These people probably succumbed to a mob mentality, made stronger by the fact that death was certain if they strayed from the group plan. Additionally, if they were to escape the situation alive, they would all have been ostracized from society as cannibals–but they would have been in it together, sharing the shame of survival equally. Of course, the religious justification helped, but I think these factors may have proved equally as important when the group made their decision to eat their loved ones.

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