Rugby team plays 40 years after Andes plane crash forced cannibalism

The Old Christians Club play the Old Grangonian Club in Santiago to mark the 40th anniversary of the crash made famous by a best-selling book and a Hollywood film.

SANTIAGO // An Uruguayan rugby team played a match that was postponed for four decades when their plane crashed in the Andes, stranding them for 72 days in the cordillera and forcing them to cannibalism to stay alive.

The Old Christians Club squared off yesterday in Santiago against the Old Grangonian Club, the former Chilean rugby team they were scheduled to have played to mark the 40th anniversary of the crash made famous by a best-selling book and a Hollywood film.

"At about this time we were falling in the Andes. Today we're here to win a game," Pedro Algorta, 61, a survivor of the crash said as he prepared to walk onto the pitch surrounded by the jagged mountains that trapped the group.

Military jets flew over the field, where parachutists in Chilean and Uruguayan flags landed. Survivors wept when officials unveiled a commemorative frame with pictures of those who died in the snowy peaks.

The Uruguayan air force plane that carried the team crashed in a mountain pass in October 1972 while en route from Montevideo to Santiago. Of the 45 passengers aboard, 16 survived by feeding on dead family members and friends preserved in the snow.

"I think the greatest sadness I felt in my life was when I had to eat a dead body," said Roberto Canessa, 59, who was a teenage medical student at the time of the crash.

"I would ask myself: Is it worth doing this? And it was because it was in order to live and preserve life, which is exactly what I would have liked for myself if it had been my body that lied on the floor," he said.

Exasperated by more than two months in the frigid cordillera, Canessa and Fernando Parrado left the crash site to seek help. After 10 days of trekking, they spotted a livestock herder in the foothills of the Chilean Andes who rode his horse to the nearest town to alert rescuers.

"I came back to life after having died. It's something that very few people experience," said Mr Parrado, who has been a TV host, motivational speaker and race car driver. "Since then, I have enjoyed fully, carefully but without fear."