GENEVA, SWITZERLAND / BOOK MY PLACE – The accounts recently published by the survivors of the Fairchild crash in the Andes in 1972 (Pedro Algorta, Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa) so fired my imagination that I hunted for the original ‘Alive’ by Piers Paul Read and found it just as gripping as when I first read it in 1974.
Like the story of Shackleton’s astonishing journey in the James Caird to save his stranded men, I think it is Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa’s ten-day walk over Mount Seler, a 13,500 Andes summit that is the most harrowing of all the nightmares that are recalled. We walk with them as, dehydrated, starving and ill-equipped, they struggle through an environment that is totally unknown to Uruguayans, and almost reach the point when they can go no further, when they see the peasant Catalan.
What a miracle that he responds appropriately and sixteen young men survive.
The events of the entire narrative are made more poignant when, in the recently published memoirs by some of those sixteen, we hear their personal slant on the events. We hear Algorta, who was not one of the original rugby team and who has had a different education from the ‘Old Christians’ – how he managed to cope with seventy days in the shell of the Fairchild. We hear the voice of the difficult Canessa, whose experience as the ‘doctor’ of the group has guided his lifetime career and, most of all, we hear Parrado who emerges as the hero, a relatively nondescript personality until the duress of the situation brings out his wonderful personality and leadership qualities.
This will remain a classic of the literature of survival.