Andes Flight Disaster Essay

2825 words - 12 pages

Andes flight disaster
Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, also known as the Andes flight disaster and, in South America, as the Miracle of the Andes (El Milagro de los Andes) was a chartered flight carrying 45 people, including a rugby union team, their friends, family and associates, that crashed in the Andes on 13 October 1972. More than a quarter of the passengers died in the crash and several others quickly succumbed to cold and injury. Of the 27 who were alive a few days after the accident, another eight were killed by an avalanche that swept over their shelter in the wreckage. The last 16 survivors were rescued on 23 December 1972, more than two months after the crash.
The survivors had ...view middle of the document...

After resuming the flight on the afternoon of Friday 13 October, the plane was soon flying through the pass in the mountains. The pilot then notified air controllers in Santiago that he was over Curicó, Chile, and was cleared to descend. That proved to be a fatal error. Since the pass was covered by the clouds, the pilots had to rely on the usual time required to cross the pass (dead reckoning). They failed to take into account strong headwinds that slowed the plane and increased the time required to complete the crossing. They were not as far west as they thought and, as a result, the turn and descent were initiated too soon, before the plane had passed through the mountains, leading to a controlled flight into terrain.
Dipping into the cloud cover while still over the mountains, the Fairchild soon crashed on an unnamed peak (later called Cerro Seler, also known as Glaciar de las Lágrimas or Glacier of Tears), between Cerro Sosneado and Volcán Tinguiririca, straddling the remote mountainous border between Chile and Argentina. The plane clipped the peak at 4,200 metres (13,800 ft), severing the right wing, which was thrown back with such force that it cut off the vertical stabilizer, leaving a gaping hole in the rear of the fuselage. The plane then clipped a second peak which severed the left wing and left the plane as just a fuselage flying through the air. One of the propellers sliced through the fuselage as the wing it was attached to was severed. The fuselage hit the ground and slid down a steep mountain slope before finally coming to rest in a snow bank. The location of the crash site is 34°45′54″S 70°17′11″W, in the Argentine municipality of Malargüe (Malargüe Department, Mendoza Province).
Early days
Of the 45 people on the plane, 12 died in the crash or shortly thereafter; another five had died by the next morning, and one more succumbed to injuries on the eighth day. The remaining 27 faced severe difficulties in surviving in the freezing mountains at such a high altitude. Many had suffered injuries from the crash, including broken legs from the aircraft's seats piling together. The survivors lacked equipment such as cold-weather clothing and footwear suitable for the area, mountaineering goggles to prevent snow blindness (although one of the eventual survivors, 24-year-old Adolfo "Fito" Strauch, devised a couple of sunglasses by using the sun visors in the pilot's cabin which helped protect their eyes from the sun). They lacked any kind of medical supplies, and the death of Dr. Francisco Nicola left a first and a second year medical student who had survived the crash in charge to improvise splints and braces with salvaged parts of what remained of the aircraft.
The search
Search parties from three countries looked for the missing plane. Since the plane was white, it blended in with the snow, making it invisible from the sky. At one point the survivors tried to use several sticks of lipstick recovered from the luggage to write...

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