‘Miracle’ Evokes Admiration

by Mindy Borie
Columnist

I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked up Nando Parrado’s memoir “Miracle in the Andes.” Unlike the target audience for the book, I was not yet born when the titular event took place, and so knew very little about it. I knew only what my mother had told me when her book club read it several years ago — that a rugby team’s plane crashed and that they turned to cannibalism to survive. And, since the book was written as a memoir and had the subtitle “72 Days in the Mountains and My Long Trek Home,” I knew that, eventually, they would be rescued.

Nando Parrado was only 19 when his plane caught a bad wind and crashed on its way to Chile. His rugby team was on its way to a match. On Oct. 13, 1972, the Uruguayan Flight 571 went down. Parrado’s mother and 11 of the other passengers (the plane was carrying 45) perished in the crash; five more died the next day. The remaining passengers were injured and ill-equipped to survive in the harsh conditions of the Andes.

They struggled every minute to remain alive, as cold, sun, lack of food and injury made it nearly impossible. They repaired a radio just in time to hear the official announcement calling off the search for them. Despite everything, at enormous cost, they persevered and at last sent a search party of their own over a mountain to look for help. Sixteen survivors were rescued on Dec. 22, 1972.

The people in this story are three-dimensional and very real. Parrado is cognizant that he holds in his hands the memory of his friends, and the way he shares it affects more than just himself. He is tender in describing the care of the injured and painfully accurate in his depictions of bone-shattering despair. This is a tale not just of physical hardships but also of grueling emotional ones.

The book follows Parrado past the rescue, giving highlights of his life afterward and brief summaries of the lives of the other survivors. They have chosen different methods of healing, and some have been more successful than others. This is not a fairytale. It is a true story of intense pain and slow recovery.

I am not really an inspirational story person, but it is difficult not to feel awe when reading this book. The sickening injuries overcome and the intense fight to survive really drive home how lucky we are, and how strong it is possible for some people to be. In spite of all the troubles and tantrums along the way, I can’t help but admire Parrado and his friends simply for surviving. I don’t think any reader can.

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