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30th Anniversary
Interview with Alfredo Delgado: January 1973
- We are going to talk, but not about what happened at the mountains, not about the external facts; we are going to talk about the things that happened inside of you, about the person you were and the person you are; about the things that changed in your relationship with the world and life, and the things remained as they were before the accident. Is this O.K?
- Yes, it is.

- To start…, something very vague: How are you? How do you find yourself?
- I’m not here yet, I still don’t find myself.

- How can that be possible?
- The thing is that I’m still floating; I couldn’t come down to earth yet and I haven’t come back to my old life. The interviews, the way back to Montevideo, the people’s welcome, each encounter with a friend is a new blow. It’s being hard to me to get back to my life, because there is always something that comes and blows me; a hug, an encounter. There is nothing I can do, I can’t finish waking up.

- Maybe you have already waked up but you haven’t realized it...
- I don’t understand your point.

- Maybe you have waked up but in a different way, so different that you can’t notice it, and because of that you are confusing your wake up to a new vision of the world with a sort of nightmare or something like that.
- Yes, it could be something like that. I’m waking up and I see everything different, but I’m sure I haven’t return yet, I’m not completely awake because I haven’t had a single break since I got here, everything is too recent. I can’t get used to be back I just can’t. I see that corner that I’ve seen many times but I see it for the first time since the accident and it makes me feel something strange. I see that coffee, that bridge, those threes and I feel that everything is new but old at the same time. Who was going to say that I would ever walk here again, that I would ever pass through this bike store again?

- How was the return to your bed and your pillow?
- Not very good. It has been hard to me trying to catch up on sleep. The first days I didn’t sleep much, little more than 4 hours, but now I’m sleeping almost 6 hours. This problem is because during those 70 days on the mountains I could never sleep more than 3 or 4 hours a day. I spent the nights without sleeping a wink; I could only sleep during short periods of time because I was afraid of sleeping and also being awake. That wasn’t living, that was surviving. We used all our energies and thoughts to find a way out, and by doing that we learnt new things, things unknown to us.

- What sort of things?
- Among other things I learnt, together with the rest, something which is essential to live together in an extreme situation like the one we were living; I learnt to grit my teeth and to hide my feelings. Due to the circumstances I learnt to withdraw myself into a sort of shell that didn’t let the others notice what was happening inside me. Doing this we avoided to hurt the others and we could give strength to each other. It was with this shell that I could remain without having shed a single tear, not even when my friend died, two months after the accident and being only at ten days of the rescue. That friend was my closest friend since we were very little, he died on my arms but I didn’t let my tears out because the tears of one of us could make the whole group collapse.

- How was the cold?
- The cold, how cold is the cold… It’s so hard to describe how freezing the cold is… when there are 30 degrees below zero nothing can relieve the cold, so you learn something you didn’t know; what the “human heat”, the body’s temperature and the warmth are, especially the warmth which comes from seeing a person with faith and will to survive in front of you, at half a meter or at ten centimeters from you. If after the accident only 4 or 5 of us would have survived, we would certainly be dead because surviving depends almost entirely on the state of mind of the others. In a group of more than fifteen people is always possible to find six or seven in a good mood and those are the ones that hold the group up; when these ones are no longer in that mood there will certainly appear another six or seven to hold up the rest of the group. The cold does not affect only your body but it affects also your soul. We piled ourselves up in the endless nights inside the plane, we squeezed up, we heard our breading, we warmed each other up to heat the bones but above all to maintain our state of mind. I never knew what the human heat was, but now I know it and I will never forget it.

- And what happens, Delgado, when men are starving?
- The cold, the anguish, the hunger, are successive steps which start to undress us more and more. We started to get prepared for the inevitable before the reserves were off. All of us philosophically bore the idea of taking the dead bodies to feed ourselves, but not all of us bore it physically. Anticipating this possibility it was commented once and when the moment came of taking that tremendous decision we expected an atrocious reaction… but we didn’t reach the desperation or the limit because the cold consumes lot of your calories, and taking this to the limit was falling into an abyss. We were forced to decide before we run out of strengths because after that it would be too late to recover from it. The cold, the loneliness, the isolation, the death surrounding us, the hunger it was one step after the other; each step seemed to be the last, the end, but in each of them we learnt that there is always a strength remaining somewhere, strengths unexpected that come from the most unexpected places of us. I learnt this too, how enormously strong we become as we become weak.

- On these nights in which you slept three or four hours could you balance the anguishes of the day? Did you dream? What did you dream?
- At first as I closed my eyes I was already dreaming …, it was terrible. I dreamt that I was living my life normally, my ordinary life in Montevideo and I believed inside the dream that the accident was a nightmare. In my dreams I saw myself at Montevideo, going to the university, with my girlfriend, at home, with my parents…, every time I woke up was a tremendous shock, I opened my eyes and I saw the phosphorescent letter of the plane’s sign which says “EXIT”. It was so depressing! On the first few days it was all the same, sleep and dream about that, my life in Montevideo and the nightmare of the plane’s crash and after that the slap of waking up and seeing the plane’s sign “EXIT”. I felt that I was going crazy. The depressions that came after my wake up were devastating me more and more. And it was for that reason that I decided not to sleep, but without sleeping I wouldn’t stand much, so I manage to go my mind blank before sleeping. That was a big effort but with the time I made it, I could finish with the torture of dreaming.

- And during the slow and long days, what effect did the memories and the distance of both your family and friends have on you?
- With the memories it was the same as with the dreams. At first I remembered my parents and my girlfriend very clearly, but when I stopped remembering and went back to the reality it was a shock. I realized that instead of helping me that was weakening me, bruising me inside. So I decided to stop hurting myself by cutting the people from my memories.

- How did you do that?
- I remembered places, moments, but no people. Sometimes I traveled to my home in my memories and I walked through it, I sat on a corner or I read in my bedroom; others I remembered a summer, a three and some shade and I stayed there for a while. But I always took care of taking the people out of my memories; doing that I could take my travels as stimulus to avoid getting depressed. I knew that if I got depressed too frequently, that depression would turn into madness.

- Delgado did you ever have the premonition or the feeling of what happened to you at the mountain?
- Yes, I knew that the plane was going to crash. It was when we were at Mendoza, in The Plumerillo; I was just about going into the plane when I felt that something was going to happen, I felt it clearly, very clearly.

- And what did you do?
- I just delayed a few seconds, but it was too late to regrets, I entered the plane convinced that we were going to have an accident, convinced but quiet at the same time; I was so convinced that I sat on a seat at the back, because my experience told me that the plane’s tail was much safer than the other parts of the plane. The stewardess cleared those seats saying that it were for them. I ended up on a seat in the middle of the plane…and at the first turbulence I confirmed my premonition, so I just closed my eyes and prayed. The accident happened right after that, and I saved my life by not being seated at the tail, because the tail came off the rest of the plane’s body.

- That premonition, the feeling of death was just for that moment or does it happens frequently to you?
- I’ve never had such a clear feeling, but I always felt that I was going to die young and in an accident. I told my mother and my girlfriend that feeling.

- Have you found out the reason of that supposition?
- I always thought that, because I had the feeling that I had lived too much, because in spite of not having an opulent existence, life had been very generous with me.

- So, you saw the death as a sort of compensation?
- Exactly. Although I haven’t had an easy life, I was very happy; that’s the reason why when I was a boy, being 17 or 18 years old, I already felt that and I told it to my relatives.

- Did you take that feeling of death with fear or with anguish?
- No, I’ve never had fear of death… I think that nobody has it, what’s feared is the way in which death can come, for example: the death which comes with lot of pain and agony.

- And at the mountain, facing the death so close to you, did that attitude change?
- I was surrounded by deaths whether it were at the accident or because of it or even the deaths caused by the avalanche. I learnt to live with it with the feeling that there is something superior. That life sheared with death, let’s say pacific, was possible because I became more convinced that after the death comes something better… it couldn’t exist something worse than that situation. I had the idea of dying inside me, and I took it with clearness of conscious. I could almost affirm that I felt it like a companion.

-All that is over now Delgado, the mountains were left behind. Now you are here so, what happens now between you and that idea of the death?
- Some years ago I had the feeling of a prompt and accidental death, but now I am completely calm about what may happen to me. It’s not that I don’t want to live any more, actually is right the opposite, but if somebody comes and tells me that I have only three days left, I would remain immutable, I would keep walking with you across this street.

- You are another man; you know that, another man different from the one who boarded that plane to Chile, Aren’t you?
- Yes, I’ve moved to another world, to an unknown maturity. Now I know, or I think I know, what happens inside an old man who sees the death like something that could knock his door at any moment. The religion was essential to my way of seeing things and to accept the death. I could only put up with that horrible situation during 70 days and 70 nights because I saw a life purgatory in it. Many times I wondered why we had to put up with such a terrible and unnecessary pain. I always answered myself that it was a prior act, a requirement to enter a better life. Many times, up in the mountains, I said to myself: “Maybe this is the purgatory”. This justified absurd and unbearable facts, like the death of a friend sixty days after the accident and at ten days of being rescued.

- In the middle of that nightmare, did you ever stop your thoughts and enjoy the landscape? Is an absurd question but maybe it isn’t so absurd considering the situation.
- During that “season”, or that “summer”, there were moments in which, effectively, I stopped my “travels” around far empty places, and I enjoyed the silence, the landscape. That was a new sensation. That silence wasn’t a bedroom’s silence or a sea shore silence or a plain silence… that silence had other sound…

- Wasn’t that sound of the new silence overwhelming to you?
- The feeling of being overwhelmed was due to the snow to me, you can’t imagine how I missed the green. It was like a desperation I had for something green, it was like being thirsty of something green. The snow was unknown to my eyes, and suddenly it invaded all…, it was all white, white, white…

- Another absurd question: Don’t you miss sometimes that feeling about the white color, or that sound from the silence?
- No, not yet. In that situation there was a side of peace, of deep peace but I haven’t came down yet, I haven’t had time; maybe later, when I found myself immersed in this agitated world, I could miss some peaceful moments in the middle of the snow.

- How was the relationship with God up in the mountains?
- My faith in God was crucial. The God I talk with has nothing to do with any specific religion, or has to do with all of them. The God I’m talking about, to define him, is something, somebody who is very close to the conscience, which is in fact the only thing people can’t lie to.

- Talking of conscience, what happens between you and her during those 70 days?
- Lots of things happened, much more than a revision of facts and situations of my life. I did a behavior test. That test gave, as a result, something that may seems a banality: terrible wills to change and to be a better person sprung up on me… It seems a bit childish, but I can’t express that strong will to be good in other words.

- That will is still alive? How long would last in you?
- I can’t tell you how I will be in six months or in a year if I don’t know what I want to be. I can’t tell you if this feeling I had now will still be here in a year, two or more. But I’ve reached at the conclusion that I must live in the most upright way possible. Things have changed: I used to think mostly about me, now I’m thinking more about the others. …Material things, comfort, dollars and all that it’s in the background to me.

- Has your opinion about the world and the century we are living in also changed?
- Yes. There are very elemental things which I now feel deeply inside. I know this is an extraordinary century in many technical aspects, but the madness about comfort, the lack of concern about other people’s problems, about what happens to the others, about the spiritual values, all this spoil the rest. The spiritual side of us, which is so left out now, is precisely what allowed us to survive. We were realistic but even in the most terrible moments we thought about the others, we resorted to our internal strengths, which were withdrawn and neglected.

- Your personality and your relationship with the others have also changed?
- Yes, pretty much. I used to be very witty and nice, cheerful, funny, but now I have that shell on me, and my love and affection don’t show anymore. I want to be like I was before; I want to show my feelings. Now, when I want to caress somebody or when a tear comes to my eyes they remain in the middle of the way. In that aspect I want to be the one I used to be.

- And in what aspects you don’t want to be the one you were?
- Before the accident, although I was a good-tempered person, I had periods of very bad-mood. I’d like to modify that. I also used to sleep a lot, but now I’m going to sleep only the indispensable hours, I’ve understood now how valuable a minute of life is, and I don’t want to waste my time.

- How was your childhood? Go back to your first memories.
- My childhood? The earlier memory I have from childhood? No, I can’t remember.

- Make an effort, try to remember something, some situation, some face, something you saw, or something that happened to you.
- Let’s see… my childhood, no it’s useless, I can’t remember anything.

- Nor even a special prank?
- No, I just can’t, it’s very difficult for me to remember. You can’t imagine how hard I’m trying… Childhood, with those seventy days is something so distant to me that no matter how hard I try, I can’t remember anything clearly.

- Don’t you remember your school days?
- Yes, but vaguely… from the school, what comes now to my mind is my best friend, Numa. ..Numa Turcatti, Turcatti with double “t”. He was in the plane too I convinced him to go, I convinced his mother first to make him go because he wasn’t very enthusiastic about going out… Numa died sixty days after the accident, only ten days before the rescue, in the morning, in my arms. He was like a brother to me, even more than that… and I didn’t cry, I couldn’t cry because I already had the shell on me.

- How old are you?
- Twenty-five, I spent my 25th birthday at the mountains.

- (Some minutes ago you said: “When I was a child”, referring to your 17 years. You speak as if you were a man approaching to his 40 or 50 years.)
- How long do you expect to live now?
- I place myself in God’s hands. Look, what are the premonitions for? I used to believe that I was going to die young in an accident, and that was not true…, it doesn’t matter if I die tomorrow, I’m not young anymore, I’m 25-years-old plus those 70 days and nights.
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