The survivors of Uraguay Flight 571, which crashed in the Andes in the 1972. The survivors waited 2 months for help and had to resort to eating the flesh of dead passengers to survive
The survivors had extremely little food: eight chocolate bars, a tin of mussels, three small jars of jam, a tin of almonds, a few dates, candies, dried plums, and several bottles of wine. During the days following the crash, they divided this into small amounts to make their meager supply last as long as possible. Parrado ate a single chocolate-covered peanut over three days.
Even with this strict rationing, their food stock dwindled quickly. There was no natural vegetation and there were no animals on either the glacier or nearby snow-covered mountain. The food ran out after a week, and the group tried to eat parts of the airplane, such as the cotton inside the seats and leather. They became sicker from eating these.
Knowing that rescue efforts had been called off and faced with starvation and death, those still alive agreed that, should they die, the others might consume their bodies to live. With no choice, the survivors ate the bodies of their dead friends.
Survivor Roberto Canessa described the decision to eat the pilots and their dead friends and family members:
Our common goal was to survive — but what we lacked was food. We had long since run out of the meager pickings we’d found on the plane, and there was no vegetation or animal life to be found. After just a few days, we were feeling the sensation of our own bodies consuming themselves just to remain alive. Before long, we would become too weak to recover from starvation.
We knew the answer, but it was too terrible to contemplate.
The bodies of our friends and team-mates, preserved outside in the snow and ice, contained vital, life-giving protein that could help us survive. But could we do it?
For a long time, we agonized. I went out in the snow and prayed to God for guidance. Without His consent, I felt I would be violating the memory of my friends; that I would be stealing their souls.
We wondered whether we were going mad even to contemplate such a thing. Had we turned into brute savages? Or was this the only sane thing to do? Truly, we were pushing the limits of our fear.
The group survived by collectively deciding to eat flesh from the bodies of their dead comrades. This decision was not taken lightly, as most of the dead were classmates, close friends, or relatives. Canessa used broken glass from the aircraft windshield as a cutting tool. He set the example by swallowing the first matchstick-sized strip of frozen flesh. Later on, several others did the same. The next day, more survivors ate the meat offered to them, but a few refused or could not keep it down.
In his memoir, Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home (2006), Nando Parrado wrote about this decision:
At high altitude, the body’s caloric needs are astronomical … we were starving in earnest, with no hope of finding food, but our hunger soon grew so voracious that we searched anyway … again and again, we scoured the fuselage in search of crumbs and morsels. We tried to eat strips of leather torn from pieces of luggage, though we knew that the chemicals they’d been treated with would do us more harm than good. We ripped open seat cushions hoping to find straw, but found only inedible upholstery foam … Again and again, I came to the same conclusion: unless we wanted to eat the clothes we were wearing, there was nothing here but aluminum, plastic, ice, and rock.
Parrado protected the corpses of his sister and mother, and they were never eaten. They dried the meat in the sun, which made it more palatable. They were initially so revolted by the experience that they could eat only skin, muscle and fat. When the supply of flesh was diminished, they also ate hearts, lungs and even brains.
All of the passengers were Roman Catholic. Some feared eternal damnation. According to Read, some rationalized the act of necrotic cannibalism as equivalent to the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. Others justified it according to a Bible verse found in John 15:13: ‘No man hath greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.’
Some initially had reservations, though after realizing that it was their only means of staying alive, they changed their minds a few days later. Javier Methol and his wife Liliana, the only surviving female passenger, were the last survivors to eat human flesh. She had strong religious convictions, and only reluctantly agreed to partake of the flesh after she was told to view it as “a kind of Holy Communion”.