Nando Parrado shares story of survival at REO EXPO
In today's market, you might feel like you are standing on top of a frozen mountain with no direction and a chilling sense of loss. Well, this guy actually was.
Nando Parrado was one of 16 survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, which crashed in the Andes Mountains in October of 1972 while carrying members of the Uruguayan rugby team to Chile. He gave the opening remarks at REO Expo on Wednesday, sharing his story with attendees from all over the country.
While search teams for three countries searched for the lost team, the thickest snow in 50 years camouflaged the plane's white roof, making it impossible to locate the crash site. The rescue attempt lasted for 10 days and was then called off, but the survivors made it 72. Some might say that they survived at all was due to sheer luck.
"The plane landed on the only (space) that was available without rocks on the whole range of the Andes," said Parrado, showing the audience a picture of the pure white plain they landed on, surrounded on all sides by sharp rocks.
The average age of the passengers was 19, and none of them had ever seen snow before in their lives. Twenty-nine survived. Of those, 24 had no injuries. Parrado was initially unconscious with a broken skull, and his teammates thought he was dead.
After being put in a pile with the other bodies four days after the crash, Parrado started to move and gradually woke up, only to find his mother dead and his sister badly injured. A few days later, she would die in his arms.
He had invited his mother and sister on a whim so they could go shopping in Chile. He said it was difficult not to blame himself for their deaths, but knew he needed to overcome that guilt or he would not survive.
"I gave them a present of love, the pilot made a mistake. I didn't kill them," he said.
Parrado took solice in having his teammates by his side. He said survival was only possible because they were already used to working together, and a natural leader had already emerged in the team captain, who only minutes after the crash had rallied the team to build a wall in the opening of the plane to protect everyone from the wind.
"Had this happened to a commercial airliner ... it would have been very difficult to find a leader, to find cohesion, in this ordeal," he said.
Days later, when no rescuers had found them, they found a radio on board and made it work. Only then did they learn that the rescue had been called off. While it would have been easy to lose hope, the team again rallied, eating snow for hydration and, eventually, eating the bodies of their frozen teammates to stay alive.
While Parrado said this seems unimaginable to most, it was unavoidable and was the ultimate act of sacrifice. Dying teammates asked stronger ones to use their bodies for survival when they died so that some of them would make it out alive.
"We created an example because we gave life," he said.
Eventually, Parrado decided to trek down the mountain to find help. After the teammates fashioned a sleeping bag, a device to melt the snow for water and sunglasses out of parts of the plane, he and two other men started on the journey.
After a full day, they had barely made any progress. They sent the slower of the three back to the camp, and continued to climb. They had no gear, and no protective clothing. When they eventually reached what they thought was a peak, they discovered they had much farther to go. They encountered three false peaks along the way.
"Every time I reach something difficult in my life, I think, 'This is just a false summit,' " he said. "We were so high up in the mountains that lightning was below us."
When they finally mounted the peak, they discovered there was no town as they thought there had been. The plane had veered so badly off course that they were facing in a completely different direction, and there were only more mountains all the way around them. Instead of giving up, they kept going.
After walking for more than 10 days, the pair came across a man on a horse, who instructed them to stay put while he went for help. When he returned, he brought rescuers. After 72 days, the team was finally found. Parrado and his teammate led helicopters to the site, and 16 final survivors were able to go home.
After that harrowing experience, Parrado's message is to enjoy your family and the good that surrounds you, while not focusing too much on success.
He has kept that message in mind during his quick rise to success as an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and television personality. He says his wife and two daughters are his rock, and that he will never lose sight of them in order to focus on his career.
"Don't be attached to success," he said. "Enjoy the root of success."