Beyond Survival: The True Story of ‘Society of the Snow’

Catherine A. Jones
 | January 17, 2024

Half a century has passed since fate turned Fernando “Nando” Parrado into the face of an incredible true story: the leader who emerged from the legendary Andes plane crash.

Back in 1972, a 21-year-old Parrado became the beacon of hope for fellow survivors, leading them through 71 harrowing days devoid of food, water, and hope.

Today, the Uruguayan businessman stands as a triumphant figure — a successful writer, TV producer, and sought-after motivational speaker.

His legacy is etched in resilience.

And, with “Society of the Snow” or “Sociedad de la Nieve,” becoming a Netflix No. 1 movie of the week, Parrando is thrust back into the limelight.

Once again, the world wants to know about how he and his friends survived a place he calls “worse than hell itself.”

The Real ‘Society of the Snow’ 

“Survival fascinates people because people … ask themselves ‘How would I react on a situation like this one,’” Parrado said in a recent interview with ABC News.

Parrado and his friends’ survival skills were tested when Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed.

The chartered flight was carrying 45 passengers and crew, including 19 members of the Old Christians Club rugby union team, along with their families, supporters, and friends. The flight was supposed to take the team of boys from Montevideo, Uruguay, to Santiago, Chile, for an exhibition match against the Old Boys Club, an English rugby team in Santiago.

As the new Netflix movie shows in detail, on October 13, 1972, the plane crashed into the Andes mountains, killing three crew members and nine passengers immediately.

Several more died soon after due to the frigid temperatures and the severity of their injuries.

The survivors of the crash faced extreme hardships, including exposure, starvation, and avalanches, which led to the deaths of more passengers.

The remaining survivors had to sustain life with rations found in the wreckage after the plane had crashed.

“Hunger is the worst fear a human being can have,” Parrado explains. “.. you’ll never understand the deep anxiety of hunger until you feel your body feeding upon itself.”

They were left with no choice but to eat from the remains of their deceased friends to stay alive.

“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,”  fellow survivor, Physician Roberto Canessa told National Geographic.

In an act of bravery, Canessa joined his rugby teammate Parrado on a 10-day hike out of the mountains to find help, and tell the world that they were still alive.

“When the news broke in 1972, the world couldn’t believe it,” the Today show reports. “How did 16 young men survive a plane crash and more than two months stranded in the mountains, surrounded by snow, with nothing to eat?”

As close to reality as possible’

The story of the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 has been immortalized in several books, movies, and documentaries. One of the most famous books is “Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors” by Piers Paul Read.

The book was published two years after the survivors of the crash were rescued. The author interviewed many of the survivors as well as the family members of the passengers before writing this book to obtain facts about the crash. He wanted to write the story as it had happened without embellishment or fictionalizing it.

Seen here: Fernando Parrado and Roberto Canessa alongside Sergio Catalán, the muleteer who found them lost in the Andes mountains after ten terrible days of walking amidst the mountain range (tragedy and miracle of the Andes); courtesy of the Argentine magazine “Gente y la actualidad,” 1974.

Parrado has said the book “Alive” told the story of the events that happened. While the book “Society of the Snow,” he explains, tells the story of what actually happened to the survivors.

The years of reflection make the difference in the two tales.

In 1993, a Hollywood movie called “Alive” was released, starring Ethan Hawke and Josh Hamilton.

In 2024, a Spanish-language movie called “Society of the Snow” was released on Netflix, quickly reaching No. 1.

The movie is directed by J.A. Bayona, whose credits include “The Impossible,” and was based on Pablo Vierci’s book, “Society of the Snow.” 

Shooting the new film was an intense experience for all, according to Spanish film director, and Uruguayan Actor Enzo Vogrincic Roldán, who rationed his food in real life and lost 50 pounds to play the role of  Numa Turcatti, the film’s narrator.

“We were shooting 12,000 feet, exactly in the same place where the plane crashed, at the same time of the year,” Bayona said in an interview. “I wanted to get as close to reality as possible.”

Bayona put his cast on a medically supervised weight-loss program and shot the avalanche scenes in freezing conditions, according to NBC News.

The director and actors wanted to accurately portray the story of the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, as a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the will to survive.

As for Parrado, he says he’s happy to tell his story once again. And assures everyone he’s doing fine.

“I don’t think a lot about it,” he told the Guardian, adding that, in over 50 years since that fateful crash on the mountain, he’s never had a nightmare about the Andes.

But, like others, he’ll never forget the lessons learned.

“When I have to take a decision, I say: ‘OK, this decision compared to the ones I took up there, this is a joke!’ I mean, what could happen if I go wrong? Over there every decision meant that if it was wrongly taken, I would die,” he said.

Spoken like a leader. And survivor.

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Featured image: Mexican air force Capt. Radames Gaxiola Andrade stands in front of his P-47D with his maintenance team after he returned from a combat mission. Captain Andrade was assigned to the Mexican air force's Escuadron 201. Members of the Escuadron 201 fought alongside U.S. forces during World War II.
Featured image: “Homage a Chespiritu” by Freddy Agurto Parra.
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