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Plane crash survivor looks back on decision to eat bodies of deceased friends to survive

By John Patrick Magno Ranara Published Dec 07, 2023 5:33 pm

If you get stranded in an isolated area after a plane crash, what would you do to survive?

For a survivor of the 1972 Andes Mountain plane accident, it took having to consume the bodies of their dead friends just so they wouldn't starve to death while awaiting rescue.

Roberto Canessa reflected on the incident in a recent interview with TODAY ahead of the release of the Netflix survival thriller Society of the Snow, which recounts their traumatizing experience.

"I was immersed in that place again," Canessa told the news outlet when asked about his feelings after watching the film. "I was back [in] the fuselage."

He was only a 19-year-old medical student at the time when the plane carrying him and his Uruguayan rugby teammates crashed in the Andes mountains. Sixteen out of 45 passengers survived the harsh conditions for 72 days without food and water.

As Canessa put it, "I thought I was going to die."

Canessa and his group made the difficult decision to eat the flesh of those who perished from the crash to live a few more days.

In his 2016 book, I Had to Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired My Calling to Save Lives, he detailed that they cut flesh from the bodies "amid much torment and soul-searching" as they almost lost hope that they will never get rescued.

"We laid the thin strips of frozen flesh aside on a piece of sheet metal. Each of us finally consumed our piece when we could bear to," he wrote.

When asked about the disturbing moment, Canessa told TODAY, "I thought if I would die, I would be proud that my body would be used for someone else."

He and his teammates decided that they had to take matters into their own hands if they wanted to escape their situation. They went out of the mountains for help, and eventually reached civilization about a week later.

"We got in touch with a shepherd. He was generous enough to go and search for help for us, [even though] he didn’t know us and no one believed that we were alive. And in this way, a very humble person saved the life of my friends," Canessa told PEOPLE in a previous interview.

"I remembered very vividly my mother and I went to [visit the mother of] a friend who had died and she was devastated. And my mother told me, 'If one of my children died, I couldn’t make it through life, I would die of sadness.' So I had to go back and tell my mother, 'Don’t cry anymore, I’m alive.' So I think that was the driving force for me," he said.

For Canessa, who is now a pediatric cardiologist, the incident taught him "about how to overcome difficulties in life and have faith in yourself."

Society of the Snow will be released in theaters in Uruguay and Spain this December before it streams on Netflix on Jan. 4.