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Survivors of a plane crash were forced to eat their dead friends in a harrowing story that sounds too unbelievable to be true.
In 1972, a charter jet carrying a Uruguayan rugby team across the Andes mountains crashed, eventually killing 29 of the 45 people on board.
What followed over the next 72 days was a remarkable story of human survival including cannibalism of friends and relatives, atrociously difficult decisions and a desperate search for help for the Old Christians Club rugby union team.
For almost half a century the so-called Miracle of the Andes has captured the world's attention but one of the survivors said he's managed to leave the story in the past.
Survivors Roberto Canessa, Nando Parrado and Antonio Vizintin trekked for 10 days across the vast mountain range when it became apparent no one was coming to look for them.
Jose Luis ‘Coche’ Inciarte was one of those left with the plane’s wreckage as his pals went to seek their salvation.
Speaking of the heart-wrenching decision to eat the flesh of their dead pals, he said “there was no other option if you wanted to stay alive”.
He said: “We made a meeting between all and we argued whether to do it or not to do it, not to do it seemed to mean to die, everybody decided to eat.
“When you went to take a piece of flesh, the body of your friend, their frozen body, the hand doesn't obey and you have to make a great effort of energy and mind to make your arm obey, and then it obeys, not immediately.
“It was the same with opening mouth to put it inside the mouth and swallow.”
Uruguay Air Force Flight 571 crashed into the mountains on October 13, 1972, as it headed to Chile when the pilot began his descent too soon while still high up in the snow-covered Andes.
Three crew members and eight passengers died instantly or on the plane’s impact. Another 18 died over the course of the next 72 days before the survivors were rescued, including eight who were caught in an avalanche.
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For those survivors, even those who didn’t suffer atrocious injuries in the crash, they struggled with shockingly cold temperatures at night with temperatures dipping to -30C.
Most of the team lived by the sea in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo and had never seen snow before.
They lacked medical supplies, adequate clothes for the freezing weather conditions and equipment or food, which soon brought up difficult decisions on the question of cannibalism.
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One of the heroes of the story, Parrado, told of the struggle he and his friends went through to put off eating their dead pals, even resorting to eating bits of leather from luggage.
“We were starving in earnest, with no hope of finding food, but our hunger soon grew so voracious that we searched anyway,” he said.
“Again and again, we scoured the fuselage in search of crumbs and morsels. We tried to eat strips of leather torn from pieces of luggage, though we knew that the chemicals they'd been treated with would do us more harm than good.
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“We ripped open seat cushions hoping to find straw, but found only inedible upholstery foam.
“Again and again, I came to the same conclusion: unless we wanted to eat the clothes we were wearing, there was nothing here but aluminium, plastic, ice, and rock.”
Eventually it became apparent to the survivors that help was not coming. The search party had in fact been called off with rescuers hoping to find the bodies of the dead when the snow melted the following summer.
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So the three strongest were chosen to trek across the mountains in a desperate bid to find help.
Vanessa, Parade and Vizintin set off without any mountaineering gear on December 12, 60 days into their ordeal.
The group knew they had to climb their way to safety and over 10 days they climbed about 38 miles.
Thinking they were a lot closer to salvation than they actually were, the trio brought only three days worth of supplies with them.
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This forced them to send Vizintin back to the crash sight because they were running out of supplies.
Parrado supposedly told his pal Canessa: "We may be walking to our deaths, but I would rather walk to meet my death than wait for it to come to me."
After walking for several more days, the exhausted pair finally came across more and more signs of human presence, before coming across some Chilean farmers, securing their survival along with the 14 other survivors.
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Rumours of how they survived started to circulate soon after their rescue, and newspapers printed photos of a half-eaten human leg to reveal the cannibalism.
The survivors told a press conference that they had eaten their dead friends, but the initial angry backlash died down after they explained the pact those on board the flight had made.
The amazing story spawned a number of books and a Hollywood film called Alive, released in 1993 and starring Ethan Hawke as Parrado.
Looking back at being forced to practice cannibalism, Canessa said: "I've had these discussions for 40 years. I don't care.
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"The flesh had protein and fat, which we needed, like cow meat. I was also used to medical procedures so it was easier for me to make the first cut.
"The decision to accept it intellectually is only one step, though. The next step is to actually do it. And that was very tough.
"My main issue was that I was invading the privacy of my friends: raping their dignity by invading their bodies.
"But then I thought, if I were killed I would feel proud that my body could be used for others to survive.
"I feel that I shared a piece of my friends not only materially but spiritually because their will to live was transmitted to us through their flesh."
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