Science Wednesday – June 12, 2019
It’s Science Wednesday!
Our topic today is on survival. On Friday, October 13, 1972 Uruguayan Air Force flight 571 took off from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile for a planned rugby match. The plane never made it. It crashed at nearly 12,000 ft. above sea level on the border of Chile and Argentina – the heart of the Andes. For 72 days, 16 survivors (out of 45 passengers and crew) endured the cold and starvation. How did they do it?
After 10 days, when hearing on the radio that the search for them had been called off and help wasn’t coming, they were forced to abandon wishful thinking and face the very harsh reality that it was up to them to save themselves. It was rational thinking and creativity that showed them the way out of their near impossible predicament and saved their lives. To survive, they needed water. Given they were surrounded by snow, they used metal pieces of the plane on which to melt the snow and then empty wine bottles to collect the resulting water. The human body cannot survive for more than 3 – 4 days without water, as our bodies are made up of 60% water.
To keep warm in the below-zero temperatures, the survivors huddled together in the broken fuselage. They ripped off seat covers and sewed them together to make blankets. For walking around in the snow, they used seat cushions to fashion snowshoes.
Their food supply ran out pretty quickly. The human body cannot go longer than 3 weeks (21 days) without food. Yet, the survivors endured 72 days in the mountains. How did they do it? The survivors engaged in the practice of anthropophagy – the act of eating human flesh. While nutritionally limited, the caloric content of muscle and organs did see them through the days, given their physical activity was at a minimum.
Their survival reveals the power of rational thinking and inventiveness in an extreme and hostile situation to the human body.
For more on this incredible story:
And to read a personal account from one of the survivors, check out Eduardo Strauch’s book, newly translated into English and available now on Amazon: