Roberto Canessa became a renowned pediatric cardiologist after surviving a tragedy in the Andes. Photo: composition LR/Clarín/David Pérez/La Tribuna de Talaver
Miracle or tragedy? The Andes accident was certainly one of the most memorable events in history and became popular again after the premiere of the Netflix film. “Snow Society” It depicts what a group of 16 young people experienced when the plane that was supposed to take them to Chile crashed in the middle of a mountain range. Although their survival was made possible by teamwork, there is no denying the involvement of a few, among whom stands out Roberto Canessa.
Canessa, who was then a young 19-year-old medical student, was an important figure among the survivors of the plane crash, as he was not only responsible for caring for the wounds and injuries of his comrades, but also, along with Fernando Parradowalked for 10 days Andes Mountains. So they got help after being discovered Sergio Catalanmuleteer who notified authorities that damaged Flight 571 Uruguayan Air Force He left people alive.
Only 16 people managed to survive the tragedy in the Andes. Photo: Snow Society
What did Roberto Canessa do?
Roberto Jorge Canessaor better known as Roberto Canessa, was one of 16 survivors of the tragedy in the Andes. He was born on January 17, 1953 in Montevideo, Uruguay. He grew up in this city and became part of the team Old Christian Rugby Clubfrom Stella Maris School.
That’s how on that Friday, October 13, 1972, Roberto, along with 45 other people, boarded a plane rented from the Uruguayan Air Force that would take them from Carrasco Airport in Montevideo to Santiago de Chile, where they had a scheduled match.
However, almost an hour after they left their stop in the city of Mendoza, the plane crashed in the Valley of Tears, a glacier located in the middle of the Andes mountain range, at an altitude of about 4,000 meters above sea level.
13 people died as a result of the plane crash. Roberto Canessa And Gustavo Zerbino, who was studying medicine at that time, treated numerous wounded people. In addition, with the support of colleagues, they built improvised hammocks that served as stretchers.
On the tenth day, the group began to run out of food, and hope for salvation became increasingly elusive. It was during this time that Canessa began to talk about the possibility of feeding on corpses to maintain energy, since in response to the low temperatures in the area, their bodies burned more fat and lost a lot of weight.
“Our common goal was to survive, but we did not have enough food. We had long since run out of supplies and had no vegetation or animal life. (…) We knew the answer, but it was too scary to think about.“, Roberto Canessa recalled in his book “I Had to Survive” about the practice of anthropophagy.
Over the following weeks, Parrado participated in various expeditions, which were initially carried out to find the tail of the plane in search of additional supplies and a radio with which to find out what was happening.
Several searches were carried out in search of a radio and supplies. Photo: Snow Society
Canessa and his journey through the Andes mountain range
The reason for the start of the last expedition was the death of Numa Turcatti. A day later, December 12, Roberto Canessa, Fernando Parrado and Antonio Visintin They left the Valley of Tears in search of help. To do this, they were given enough warm clothing, as well as meat for 15 days.
Two days later, on December 14, they reached the top of the mountain and noticed that everything was covered with snow, except for some very distant peaks. Thus, they realized that the expedition would be more difficult, and decided that Visintin would return with the others so that the meat would last them for more days.
Both Roberto and Nando were aware that their walk through the Andes mountain range could prove fatal, as they would have to face the enormous mountains, the altitude and cold of the terrain, and their bodies would be in a terrible state of health.
Map of the Valley of Tears, site of the Uruguayan plane crash. Photo: Snow Society
This journey lasted 10 days. On Wednesday, December 20, with less and less strength and almost unable to walk, they stopped at the river, where Roberto Canessa saw a man on a horse on the other bank. Because of the sound of the water, the only thing they could understand was that he would return for them the next day.
On December 21, the man who found them, later identified as muleteer Sergio Catalan, fed them while they exchanged the famous letter with which they notified the world of their exploit.
“I come from a plane that crashed in the mountains. I’m Uruguayan. We walked for ten days. I have a friend. There are 14 victims on board the plane. We need to get out of here quickly, but we don’t know how. We don’t have food. We are weak. When are they going to look for us upstairs? Please. We can’t even walk. Where are we? SOS.– wrote “Nando” Parrado.
This was what they had been craving for months. The 14 young people remaining in the Valley of Tears were rescued in two stages and all were transferred to Santiago, Chile. There they underwent a thorough medical examination and were reunited with their families.
Roberto Canessa and “Nando” Parrado were found by Chilean muleteer Sergio Catalan. Photo: Clarín archive
Canessa: from survival to saving lives
After the accident in the Andes Roberto Canessa He was eager to move on with his life. He married his girlfriend Laura Surraco — with whom he experienced an emotional reunion after surviving the Andes — received his M.D. degree and specialized in pediatric cardiology.
For his work, he was awarded the National Prize in Medicine of Uruguay three times. In addition, he works as a university professor and is the head of the department of cardiac ultrasound and prenatal diagnosis of congenital heart defects. Italian Hospital Montevideo. There he is also part of the heart transplant team.
Roberto Canessa with his wife Laura Sarruco at the premiere of the film “The Snow Society” at the Venice Film Festival. Photo: Mondadori Portfolio
His work as a doctor has also allowed him to provide social care as he helps families who have children with heart disease.
On the other hand, he devoted himself to telling the story of his experiences in the Andes through talks and the publication of his book I Had to Survive.