In 1972 Nando Parrado flew to Chile to play an international rugby match. Tragically, the flight never arrived at its destination; the plane crashed at 18,000 feet in the Andes moutnain range. The two and a half months that followed changed Nando's life completely. His mother and younger sister passed away in the accident.
Nando made a superhuman effort, and survived for 72 days, finding his way out of the Andes, after 11 days of a snowy dangerous marathon trek. After the rescue Nando worked with Piers Paul Read to write the best selling book "ALIVE", and 20 years later was the Technical Advisor in the production of the film "ALIVE", where he was interpreted by Ethan Hawke.
Nando Parrado's own words on how the experience affected him:
When I first returned I realised that the Andes had affected me more than I thought. I saw there was no way to pretend it had not happened, and I tried to learn from the experience. This changed my life dramatically.
My family life was destroyed when my mother and sister died in the accident. When I returned home, I had the strange experience of observing what would have happened if I actually had died. Arriving at my house almost three months after the crash, I found that my clothes had been given away, my room taken by my elder sister, who had moved in with her family, my posters and photographs had been removed from the walls, and my motorbike had been sold. There was no trace of me, except for some photograhps in the living room and in my father´s study.
A couple of days after my return, I went to the same pizza place that I used to frequent before the accident. All the young people were astonished to see me. They asked for autographs, and the owner did not charge me. I was the same person, but something had changed in the way everybody saw me.
Before the crash my mind was filled with my studies in business administration, but as soon as I came back I found that I had to exchange my studies for everyday work. Our family business organisation had nearly been destroyed, since my mother had taken care of half the work.
When you are young, you feel immortal. There is nothing that can modify or destroy you. Through our painful experience I learned that life is linked to death, that these are the only realities of our existence. You are born and you will die someday, in between, nobody knows.
There are some things I have thought deeply about over the years, my thoughts influenced by the Andes experience. I am sure it is the same for the other survivors. These things are: FAMILY, CONFIDENCE and FRIENDSHIP.
All through the seventy-two days we spent in the mountains, there was absolutely nothing to which we could attach ourselves. Everything had lost its meaning. There was no future, no hope. Studies, work, material things: nothing had any value.
But omnipresent in everyone was the need of family affection. Our desire to feel secure in a family and our need to feel and give the love of a family were the only things that kept us going. So now, after having experienced a human situation where our limits of physical and mental suffering were constantly reached and even exceeded, I have come to understand that FAMILY is what made us survive.
Our lives honor this fact. I am extremely happy just to be able to put my daughters to bed every night. This realisation has not taken away from my work or "success" in life. I am the CEO of six companies, but there is no business meeting or commercial activity that I would not exchange for the moments of happiness I have had with Veronique and my children.
I have learned that moments do not repeat themselves, but the next time I am dieing I know what I will be remembering: my affections and love, not my businesses, cars, contracts, bank loans, earnings, faxes, airports
Another thing I am certain was influenced by the Andes experience was my personal CONFIDENCE. I have been able to make decisions quite easily in many aspects of life and work because of something that happened in the mountains. When I was at the top of an 18.000-foot peak with Roberto Canessa, looking at the vast scenery of snowy peaks surrounding us, we knew we were going to die. There was absolutely no way out. We then decided how we would die: we would walk towards the sun and the west. It was better than freezing at the top. This decision took us scarcely thirty seconds. Other decision taken later in life seemed no more difficult than deciding about my own death.
I have gained confidence in myself, a quiet tranquility that has given me a better perception of the world around me. Making decisions became easier because I knew that the worst thing that could happen would be that I would be wrong. Compared to what I had gone through, that was nothing.
Finally there is the value of FRIENDSHIP, of our feeling of affection and love. It was deeply moving to see young boys helping their friends in ways they could not have imagined, even risking and giving their lives for each other. Frienship was a major factor in our chances to survive and, after we managed to rescue ourselves, we made our friendship with each other an important part of our lives.
Sometimes I ask myself why people need to experience extreme situations to understand the real values of life. These values are so clear and so near us, yet we rush by them looking for the "important" things. The warmth of my daughters´s embrace at night when I put them to bed or the quiet presence of my wife, Veronique, near me " moments that will not be repeated " these are the important, enduring values.