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 The Andes Survivors

      I come from a plane that fell in the mountains. I am Uruguayan. We have been walking for ten days. I have a friend up there who is injured. In the plane there are still fourteen injured people. 
These were the first words of a note that Nando Parrado threw across the river to his rescuers. He had hiked all the way down from the snow-capped Andes peak named Tinguiririca, the site of a horrific plane crash. The sudden crash killed the pilot and flight crew, leaving the surviving passengers to fend for themselves. Their only shelter from the cold and snow was the broken fuselage. Food was scarce, they melted snow for their drinking water, and the only fuel for a fire came from a couple of wooden crates. Injured and exhausted, the group members argued intensely over the likelihood of a rescue. Some insisted that searchers would soon find them. Others maintained that they must climb down from the mountain. Some became so apathetic that they didn't care. At night the cries of the injured were often answered with anger rather than pity, for the severely cramped sleeping arrangements created continual conflict. And early one morning, as they were sleeping, an avalanche filled the cabin with snow, and many died before they could dig their way out. 

The group escaped from the crash site after nearly three months. But the group that came down from Andes was not the same group that began the chartered flight; the pattern of relationships among the group members, or the group's structure, had been altered. The survivors began the ordeal without a leader but ended up with a plethora of "commanders," "lieutenants," and "explorers." Men who were at first afforded little respect or courtesy eventually earned considerable status within the group. Some of the men who were well liked before the crash became outcasts, and some who hardly spoke to the others became active communicators within the group. As the harsh environment taxed the group to the limit, new structures emerged that redefined who would lead, clean, and explore (role structure), who gave orders and who carried them out (authority structure), who was liked and who was treated with contempt (attraction structure), and who communicated frequently or only infrequently (communication structure). 

Links

  • An Excerpt from Piers Paul Read's book, Alive, which recounts the saga of the group 
  • EL MILAGRO DE LOS ANDES This site is devoted to the post-rescue lives of the survivors. The comparison of the men with their counterparts in the movie version is particularly intriguing (click here).  This site is in Spanish, but you can translate it using Altavista's Babelfish (click here for instructions on adding Babelfish to your browser)
  • Parrado's Note 
  • Alive: The MovieThe Hollywood version of Read's book stresses the importance of the explorers, and overlooks much of the other aspects of the group's structure. Still, the scenes dealing with the group's development of a norm favoring cannibalism are powerful ones, as are the analyses of intragroup conflict. 
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