Alive! – January 8, 2020
We’re currently on expedition in the Andes with Alpine Expeditions, visiting the site of the plane crash made famous in the book and movie, Alive!
On Friday, October 13, 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed in the remote Andes, with 45 people onboard. 29 people initially survived the crash. 72 days later, 16 were rescued after a heroic 10-day escape effort by two of them, Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa, and the world came to know their incredible tale of survival.
This all took place on the Lagrimas glacier around 12,000 feet, on the Chile-Argentina border. Take a look at the satellite images below of the glacier, with the resting spot of the fuselage marked. The first image is from March 2007 (given it’s the southern hemisphere, this is their fall). The next image is from just over a decade later, in June 2016 (austral start of winter). The last image is from January 3, 2019, just a few weeks after the start of austral summer, when the glacier should be retaining most of its snow from the winter and spring.
It is obvious when comparing the earlier image to today how much the glacier has changed. There are far fewer crevasses, the area (and inferred – volume) is less, and the debris cover is more prominent, indicative of lots of melting. Take a look at these photos of the memorial cross, on the moraine of the glacier, from January 2007 and 2018 to get an on-the-ground viewpoint of the changes in the same season. The glacier is losing a lot of its mass – you can tell how much thinner it is.
Back in 1972, when the plane crashed, there was enough snow (rather than rocks) on the surface of the glacier ensuring that the plane did not smash to pieces upon impact. Nowadays, it is a different situation. But it is a situation we are all coming to know. Glaciers are melting and receding worldwide in response to climate change. Every year here in the Andes, the glacier releases more wreckage and debris, adding to this nearly 50-year-old story.