This article was translated using AI technologies from our Spanish edition. Errors can occur as a result of this process.
A plane full of young people crashes violently against the snow-capped peaks of the Andes while one of them prays the hail Mary, who hopes to survive the accident. This is one of the most famous scenes from the Live! Movie. from Franck Marshall; A film that every Latin American has seen at least once and which they will remember as one of the most inspiring works on human resilience and the power of faith.
For Carlitos Páez, a proud lecturer who speaks about motivation and teamwork around the world, this scene is one of his toughest moments as in real life he was the young man who prayed during flight 571 of the Uruguayan Air Force sped uncontrollably into the snowy desert of the Mountains.
“We're playing a 70-day story. An outrage. There is enough time to get married, to get married and to get divorced, "says Carlitos with a smile, who visited Mexico City at the age of 65 to tell how the experience of the" miracle of the Andes "- how many his and his Companions know history – it was actually a constant fight against "no".
Carlitios Páez 1972 and now / Courtesy of Viven.com.uy and Carlitos Páez
The odyssey went like this: On October 13, 1973, the Fairchild Hiller FH-227 military aircraft crossed the mountain range with 40 passengers and five crew members carrying the rugby team of the ancient Christians. A navigation error by the pilot caused the aircraft to crash on one of the mountain cliffs in Mendoza (Argentina). The aircraft was trapped in the so-called tear glacier after the impact of the collision and the detachment of several seats. Only 27 survivors were exposed to temperatures as low as 42 ° C below zero.
Marcelo Pérez, the captain of the rugby team, took on the role of leader in organizing the young people so that the remains of the aircraft fuselage serve as shelter and the very small food they had while waiting to be rescued is rationed . Eight days after the accident, however, the survivors heard on a small radio that the Chilean and Uruguayan authorities had decided to suspend the search missions.
The little food they soon ran out of and there were no animals or vegetation to serve on the Glacier of Tears. It was then, 10 days after the meal, that the group made the decision to feed on the bodies of the deceased, frozen in the eternal snow of the mountains.
“The decision to feed on our dead companions was much less lengthy than you might think. We had lived for 10 days without anything to eat and were faced with the sad reality of knowing that they were no longer looking for us, ”says Páez.
Sixteen days after the plane crashed, an avalanche buried the survivors and claimed the lives of eight people, including that of Captain Marcelo Pérez. In the weeks that followed, three more young men would die of infections in their wounds, while the strongest young people in the group (including Carlitos) made several expedition attempts to find a way out of the mountains.
On December 12, 1972, Nando Parrado, Roberto Canessa and Antonio Vizintín finally set out on the final search for the exit of the Andes. On the third day of the hike, and after encountering a desolate landscape of miles of mountains, Vizintín returned to the hull so Canessa and Parrado could resume their supplies.
The two young men walked for 10 days until they could come down from the mountains and meet a muleteer named Sergio Catalán who would eventually help them get help to rescue the rest of the survivors.
Outside the plane in the mountain range / Courtesy Viven.com.uy
The 22 remaining survivors finally returned home on December 22nd after spending 72 days in the frozen hell.
“These 16 resurrected people surprised the world by surviving on little food for two months. The explanations must be sought in a field other than medicine and science. We have no logical explanation and the answer to its survival escapes all existing criteria. And if I weren't a doctor, I'd have to believe in a miracle, ”said Dr. Eduardo Arragada, who looked after the survivors first.
We spoke to Carlitos about what it is like to live these three months in the Andes, making brutal decisions, going back home, and the importance of being on top of yourself in order to work as a team.
About the importance of attitude in the face of adversity
Entrepreneur en Español (ENT): You often say that his story was a constant battle against "no". Can you explain a little more to us?
Carlitos Páez (CP): It's a story whose great merit was saying “yes” to “no” and that was thanks to a group attitude. In the Andes, we received a big "no": the accident itself, the news that they were no longer looking for us, the decision to feed on our dead comrades, find the tail of the plane and not do radio work. .. In our story, the big constant was "no", but we always said "yes". I think the big theme of our story was attitude.
About the importance of real teamwork
ENT: How difficult was it to get everyone to work at the same level?
CP: We didn't even know the concept of teamwork, but people are designed for it and we put it into practice. Of course, not everyone worked together and there were some who didn't do anything, but those who mattered did something to move forward.
How to deal with crises
ENT: In the 1993 film, a sequence was added in which the actor playing you prayed the Ave Maria to show how long autumn really lasted. What do you think at such a time?
CP: Everyone who gets on a plane thinks it will fall, but when it does fall we say, "It can't happen to me." It was an Hail Mary that I prayed as fast as I could, but you have to remember how long this prayer lasts and while I was praying, many things happened: the plane broke in the middle, the cold started to get in, that screamed into a more absolute chaos and then fell into the most absolute silence when the engines were turned off and we began to slide through the snow.
ENT: How was that first moment in this frozen hell? How did you decide to activate it?
CP: We come from a country (Uruguay) where there is no snow. The first thing we did was look for the pilot. We went into the cockpit and saw the dead captain and copilot dying. The mechanic was left, but he was a little stunned and with him we tried to get as much information as possible. In a short time, however, we already knew more about mechanics than he did.
There the fight to get out began. First because two planes passed overhead that we thought they saw us, and then when we heard the news on the radio that they were no longer looking for us. That was the most important moment of the Odyssey because it gave us the strength to understand that from now on we depended on ourselves and not on outsiders to survive.
ENT: In your book you tell how a friend of yours precisely said that it is now your turn to save yourself …
CP: Gustavo Nicolich – who later died in the avalanche – said to me: "Carlitos, I have good news for you: I just heard on the Chilean radio that they are no longer looking for us." I said, "How good news, son of the great …?!" and he replied: "That is good news, because now we are dependent on ourselves and not on outsiders."
When I think back to 47 years later, I realize that this was the moment when we realized where we were and that we had to use our own resources to save ourselves. It was when we stopped waiting and started acting.
To tolerance for frustration
ENT: If you could say anything to young Carlitos of this Friday the 13th, who is about to arrive at the Fairchild, what would you say to him?
CP: This Carlitos has changed over the course of history. The truth is that I was useless. I had a babysitter and breakfast in bed. I have transformed and am personally grateful that I lived this story. I give 100 lectures a year and try to help companies understand teamwork, tolerance for frustration and strength in the face of extreme change.
According to National Geographic, the "miracle of the Andes" is the most impressive common human survival story of all time. For example, to climb Everest, there is a waiting list. It's a matter of determination: I want, I train, I do. But in our case we couldn't prepare.
We did not know how to move in the snow or at the height of the mountain (the maximum height in Uruguay is 500 meters). Remember that when we were almost 30 degrees below zero, we wore jeans and loafers. Also sink into virgin snow that has never been stepped on. The truth was very difficult to live like that.
Before the accident / Courtesy of Viven.com.uy
ENT: You only mention one very important point: tolerance of frustration. How do you do that in circumstances like those who lived in the Andes?
CP: It was purely a group problem. When you fell, the others picked you up. It was my turn to show the way and it was my turn to show someone else. This is how groups work best. You are not always on top.
About difficult decisions
ENT: What is the decision-making process like in such a crisis situation? Is there such a thing as "paralysis through analysis"?
CP: We realized that we had the most sacred right to return to our family. A sacred right. The hunger you feel in civilization is not the same as that you feel in such a crisis.
ENT: That wasn't the only tough decision you had to make in the mountain range, was it?
CP: No, we make thousands of decisions and many are wrong. But like I said, it doesn't matter if you make the wrong decision if you have passion and attitude. One mistake serves as a triumph.
ENT: Exactly how do you get along if you make a wrong decision?
CP: It happened to us. We made the decision to go the wrong way. Little did we know that we were 10 kilometers from the Argentine side of the mountains and went to the opposite side, the Chilean side.
On what can be found in crises
ENT: Have you ever had the feeling that what was lived in the mountains does not apply outside of them?
CP: For me God was very present in the Andes. Later in civilization, no. There were moments of enormous purity that I would love to experience again. Years later, I returned to the mountains, convinced that I would experience them again, but it wasn't the same.
ENT: How important was it for the family to get out of the mountains?
CP: Very important. Our goal was never to write 20 films or 36 books with our story. No, we fight about simpler things: to go home to mom and dad. The scale of values is measured correctly in extreme situations.
Survivors at the time of rescue / Courtesy of Viven.com.uy
ENT: I read the book that your father, the painter Carlos Páez Vilaró, wrote about how he lived those 70 days in which you were lost (between my son and me, the moon). He was one of those people who never stopped looking because he never believed you were dead.
CP: Yes, I spent more than two months without my father, but I knew it was logical that he was fine. The problem for him and my mother was because they didn't know what had happened to me. I felt very close to him the whole time.
The title was taken over by Dad because of that connection with my mother. When I got home I told my mom that I always saw the moon from the mountain range because I thought she would probably look at it too. And she told me that during that time she would take a walk to the boardwalk to see the moon that thought I was going to see it.
ENT: You had your birthday in the Andes …
CP: I was 19 years old under an avalanche at an altitude of 4,200 meters. Strangely enough, my father is one day after me, on November 1st. We were buried for three days to get out of the avalanche, and that day we succeeded.
To true leadership
ENT: How important is leadership in this story?
CP: Those who don't lead are left alone, but you need to understand that there are times when you need to lead and others follow someone else. In our story it was like this: There were guides for certain things. It was up to me to live this story that strikes me as wonderful when I remember those who accompanied us and had to leave, but shows the power of individual efforts to make teamwork a success.