MONTEVIDEO – Javier Methol, one of the 16 survivors of the so-called “Miracle of the Andes,” died Thursday of cancer, another survivor of the 1972 mountainside plane crash, Daniel Fernandez, told Efe. He was 79.
“He was ... the best of all of us. He’s the first to go and it’s enormously sad. Now we’re 15,” said Fernandez.
The passenger plane carrying 45 people crashed in the snowy Andes in 1972 and the 16 survivors managed to survive for 73 days until two of their number made it back to civilization and sent rescue.
Methol, who would have been 80 in December, was diagnosed with aggressive cancer about a month ago and died Thursday afternoon in a Montevideo hospital.
“He never got mad, he was always happy. He had problems and for him they weren’t problems. He was always helping the others. A great guy. An example,” his old sports teammate said.
On Oct. 13, 1972, a Uruguayan air force plane took off from Montevideo carrying the Old Christians rugby club and some of their relatives en route to Santiago, Chile, to play a match against Old Boys.
After a rest stop in Mendoza, Argentina, the plane resumed its flight to the Chilean capital, but a storm over the Andean passes caused it to crash into a mountainside and slide down a portion of the snow-covered hillside until it came to rest.
Authorities gave the plane up for lost after several days of fruitless searching and its occupants were presumed to be dead. Most of the occupants of the plane had indeed perished in the crash, and a few more died in an avalanche that partially buried the plane’s wreckage where the survivors had taken refuge.
The survivors had to resort to eating portions of the frozen bodies of the dead to stay alive on the mountainside, but eventually two of them decided to make the dangerous and desperate trek across the mountains to try and get help. They eventually ran into a Chilean mule driver, who alerted the authorities.
Methol, who lost his wife Liliana in the crash and was the oldest athlete among the group, told Efe in a 2009 interview that during the 73 days the group remained on the mountainside, “each person gave all that he could.”
“Each of us had a different reason for getting out of there. The road we took together was to live,” he said.
Several books and movies have told the story of the crash and its aftermath.