BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
'ALIVE: The True Story of the Andes Survivors', by Piers Paul Read
, July 27, 2002
ALIVE: The True Story of the Andes Survivors
By Piers Paul Read
Re-released by Random House
Rec. price: $21.95Alive
tells the incredible but true story of a group of survivors of a plane crash, who, against all odds survive long after authorities had given up hope of their rescue. British author Piers Paul Read was chosen by the survivors to write what has become a best selling account of their survival.
On 13 October 1972, a Fairchild aircraft chartered by the Old Christians First XV Rugby team from Uruguay, their families and friends crashed in a remote section of the Andes mountains while en route to Santiago, to compete against a Chilean team. A number of passengers were killed upon impact, while others were seriously hurt.
The survivors, particularly those with some medical knowledge, did what they could to aid the injured. They had to contend not only with a shortage of food supplies and freezing conditions, particularly at night, but also with the emotional strains that this desperate situation generated.
As the survivors experienced the deaths of their comrades, they were able to make the radio receiver work, only to discover that the official search for them had been called off.
With dwindling food supplies, they made what was perhaps their hardest decision: in order to survive, they needed to consume the flesh of their dead comrades, many of whom were close friends they had known since school days.
The families of the missing persons refused to give up hope and on their own initiative mounted search teams.
However, it was the survivors themselves who alerted the outside world to their whereabouts. After much preparation and a couple of failed attempts, a small party of survivors successfully hiked down the mountain and made contact with Chilean peasants on 21 December, 70 days after the plane crash.
Despite the lengths they were driven to in order to survive, Alive
is one of the great stories of the triumph of the human spirit in the most extreme conditions.
Much of the narrative focuses upon the psychological battle to survive, particularly the ways in which the survivors maintained their morale and functional group dynamics.
Interestingly, the survivors were Catholics, most of whom believed their faith not only sustained them through the ordeal, but was deepened as a result.Alive
is a work that is hard to put down. It has been particularly popular with young readers, and has been used in secondary education courses focusing upon character development. For these reasons, the re-release of this moving survival story is timely.