From 2007, here we have an exceptional documentary – Stranded: I’ve come from a plane that crashed on the mountains. Film buffs will likely know of Frank Marshall’s Alive (1993), adapted from Piers Paul Read’s account of the 1972 Andes Plane Crash. But for us, this is the definitive account of one of the 20th century’s most remarkable incidents.
Uruguayan director Gonzalo Arijon was keen to capture the story on camera from all 16 survivors. This is exactly what he did in a minimalistic, intimate, but highly effective account of what is often a harrowing story of human survival. Despite receiving mass critical acclaim over a decade ago, the documentary has since slipped off into obscurity. But, here in 2018, we’re recalling it so that it might find its place in posterity.
Stranded: I’ve come from a plane that crashed on the mountains
Stranded is one of the best documentaries we’ve ever seen – a brutal and unflinching account of a horrific incident, from which emerged 16 young survivors on 23rd December of 1972. Two months earlier, on the 13th October, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into the middle of the Andes mountain range with a young amateur rugby team on board.
Transporting 40 passengers, and 5 crew, to Chile, many on board were killed in the violent crash. For the survivors, what awaited was an even worse fate. After piecing together their surroundings, it gradually dawned on them they were stuck in the middle of nowhere in subzero temperatures, with no food, and seemingly no chance of survival.
The following two months resulted in the most extreme fight for survival we’ve heard post-WWII (Parrado – above – later saw the comparison between his emaciated fellow Andes survivors to Holocaust victims). With no food, they turned to the bodies of those killed in the crash – all of which were frozen in the subzero temperatures.
Over two months, they tried various routes out of the extensive mountain range. None were successful – one effort left three of them trapped on top of a mountain overnight. Remarkably, they survived – but only after spending the hours stomping on each other’s limbs to avoid them freezing entirely. Out of the three, only 19 year old Gustavo Zerbino would survive the Andes ordeal.
But, gradually starving, it all came down to one last-ditch effort to get out of there and find help. So we have to marvel at the heroic efforts of Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa, 21 and 19, respectively, at the time of the incident. The duo, emaciated and on what seemed like a suicide mission, walked out of the Andes mountain range with no mountaineering knowledge and no equipment to help them.
Canessa has since said he thinks their youth helped considerably in their situation, as youthful hedonism powered them on to walk out of the Andes when an older person would have seen it as futile. You can see the results of their efforts below (that YouTube clip highights a chain for the entire documentary, if you want to start from part 1).
It’s the remarkable trek, amongst many gut-wrenching tales of tragedy, that stop you in your tracks. Whilst the set up of the film is almost entirely the 16 men discussing their experiences, mixed with occasional archive footage and dramatised scenes, it brings back an incident that happened almost 50 years ago with frightening intensity.
But its conclusion is also notably uplifting – as unusual as that may seem. So it’s no surprise Parrado went on to provide motivational talks the world over which, happily, he continues with to this day. And it turns Stranded into a documentary that will provide those looking for a meaning in life with something special.
A curious element to the ordeal was the reaction from the world once it became apparent the survivors had eaten human flesh. At first, their sudden arrival back from the wilderness was treated as miraculous – Miracle in the Andes as Parrado’s account of the event was eventually titled in 2008.
In a highly religious country, the 16 survivors were seen as deities. God had intervened to save them – there was no other explanation for how this could have occurred. But then the tabloid press printed articles with images that gave the game away. The survivors had resorted to a remarkably taboo subject. All of a sudden, many were vilifying them.
But we feel the title of the film supports their stance here: Stranded – I’ve come from a plane that crashed on the mountains. The second section is part of a note Parrado threw to a farmer, detailing what had happened to them. He barely had the strength to throw it across a river to the man who would then ride 10 hours on horseback to send for help.
Yet that note was read, and they were saved, but only after resorting to what remains a difficult topic for our species. But the outcome is an inspirational story for the ages – and we see no problem with that.