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30th Anniversary
Interview with Fernando Parrado: October 2002
This little country, which is known only for the football championships, became famous just before 1972 Chrisman’s. The news was on the news-papers from all over the world: from the forty-five Uruguayans who had been lost at the Andes because of a plane crash on the 12th October, sixteen had survived thanks to two of them (Fernando Parrado and Roberto Canessa) who walked ten days putting up with extreme temperatures and a five thousand meters high, crossing the Andes and reaching the civilization after seventy two days on the snow.
United we stand, I don’t have any doubt about this, and I don’t have any doubt either that somebody should homage them with a sculpture somewhere in this city. This year is the 30th anniversary of the tragedy; we have chosen Fernando Parrado because we consider he played a very important part in this story. If Nando would have decided to abandon himself after what happened with his mother Eugenia and his sister Susana, we would have considered it logical and comprehensive, but amazingly he did just the opposite: he recovered from the coma he had suffered after the accident and he took care of his dying sister until her last moments, after her death he took the determination of escaping from the death.
Somewhere in the book “Alive!” I read: “he was the most determinate to challenge the cold, the mountains, so that shy boy had become a hero; his courage, strength and abnegation made him the dearest one… and in many cases he was of some comfort… he was simple, affectionate, nice, of good-temper and he rarely got angry”
He set off with Roberto Canessa and, by their courage they walked through the mountains with the inexhaustible strength he transmitted to his friend and, when they reached their objective he went up the helicopter and despite the fear he felt of going back to the accident’s place, he went to rescue his friends.

Life before the accident

- Where did you live?
- We first lived in Prado, then in Punta Gorda, and then we moved in Carrasco where I spent all my adolescence. I went to Christian Brothers’ School all my life, but I did the kinder garden at Jesus Maria’s School.

- Where was your mother from?
- She was from Ukraine, she came to Uruguay when she was sixteen and she went to live to Quebracho in Paisandú. They were bee-keepers. Then, as she was older, she came back to Montevideo and worked at a laboratory, there she met my father and here we are: me, mi sisters Graciela and Susana, who died at the Andes.

- What memories do you have from your years at Stella Maris School?
- Those were the most beautiful years of my life, because of my friends, I whish I could lived those years at the Christians again, they were spectacular; we went by bike all the mornings, the friends, the rugby, years that I miss so much.

- What was your place in the rugby team?
- I played second line, I wanted to played wing but they won’t let me.

- Did you learn to be second because of the rugby? Because in those times La Cachila was the team that always won...

- Yes, I was second but I also won them some matches. But in those times, I remember that the sport rivalry which was inside the field finished outside it.
Now I feel a great brotherhood with all my rivals, especially with the Old Boys.

- Define what is rugby to your in terms of value?
- It’s part of my life, I played in first division during 11 years, it means friends, personality, education, trips, love, everything.

- Your physical formation influenced your survival at the Andes?
- It helped a lot, but the Andes made me believe in the human spirit, in the strength, because when we were with Roberto walking, we were already in a terrible state. Our bodies were already worn out.

- And your religious formation did it influenced?
- In my case I think that rugby influenced more than religion. Rugby was like a religion to me.

- What were your expectative, plans and dreams?
- I had no idea of what I was going to do with my life. Now, I haven’t it either, I’m looking, I’m open to all things 24 hour a day. Some people has a defined vocation, whether they want to be doctors, or lawyers, or investigator since they are children, I like taking my life as it comes, I mean I could say that I have the same dreams I had before.
I remember on day at the school’s garden that somebody was giving a speech about the vocational test and I said I didn’t want to do any of those professions nor a lawyer, neither a doctor, or an engineer, or even an architect.
In those times everything was much more difficult, and it was stricter, if you didn’t do one of those things you were nobody. Today there are shortest things to study, like marketing or communications. Like what happened to class-mate, Ignacio Iturria, whose vocation hadn’t awoken at that time, and today he’s one of the most important painters in the country.

The tragedy

- Had you ever thought about death before the accident?
- Like any other people, but when you have 18 or 19 year-old you play rugby, you are immortal, and all those things are far from you. I could have thought about it but not in a serious way.

- Does what you did at the Andes amaze you?
- There are questions that don’t have answers and you can’t spend the rest of your life wondering about those things otherwise you can’t live. I’m very practical and I have inherited it from my father who once said to me: “Nando, what happened is already past, and the sun which rises every day doesn’t care about what happened, you have to continue with your life…” I assume that I had an enormous trouble, a fatal accident that I wish it hadn’t ever happened, but it has happened and I had to assume it just as it was. I lost my mother, my sister and my bests friends in there; I had to pay a huge cost. Today I don’t suffer it but Roberto can tell you how horrible and inhuman was what we had to live at the Andes. He’s the only one who can tell you, better than anyone, because nobody imagines what was that walk like. On the 25th anniversary we went there and we wanted to do the same rout but just the other way round, but we couldn’t although we went really prepared with a great expert’s team of mountaineers, people who climbed the Everest and horses; the glaciers were so dangerous that we couldn’t, and I see that the difference is that we had only our lives, nothing more than that, and still we did everything we could to get out of there, we didn’t notice if we were dying or in danger, we just didn’t care about that. It’s a situation that goes beyond anything; it’s all lost for you. I couldn’t have done that without Roberto and he couldn’t have done it without me because we encouraged each other. That rout was just for two people. We were a perfect team we did a perfect combination. When we saw the laborer we weren’t just tired we were dying, there was no more strength, energy or muscle; you have to bear in mind that we had been walking for ten days over the snow and constantly in danger, and after being more that sixty days in inhuman conditions.

- What things do you remember more clearly?
- I remember some moments; I remember that terrible cold… I remember the friends who didn’t had the luck I had, and who were much better than me and they died; I remember the most horrible moment which was when Roberto and I climbed to the highest peak of the Andes expecting to see green and houses and all we saw was the same picture of desolation: mountains, mountains and mountains one higher than the other and we both were there looking that. I can say that I collapsed …..oh God (that oh… it was heart-rending, he said that in a very low voice, it came from their soul and transmitted me the fear). But we couldn’t allow our senses to control us so I said to Roberto that I didn’t want to die standing on a mountain and that if I had to die I would do it walking, and that we should walk to the west. The days were better than before and at least it was warmer.

- What did you talk about?
- We talked mostly about our families and friends.

- After the avalanche those who survived thought that they must live up to the end, how did the death of Arturo Nogueira and then Turcatti affect you?

- That we must live up to the end? I thought that I was dead until the last minute of the last day, until the last minute of the 72nd day; I never thought I could survive a hundred per cent, actually it was completely unbearable to me think about that, maybe others but not me.

- Were you more afraid of madness or death?
- To dying so young no, I guess I was more afraid of madness then, because I was afraid.

- Is true that you had encouragement words towards each other?
- Yes, there were some like “We are still breathing, we are alive”

- Have you ever asked yourself why did all that happened to you?
- There is no answer to that… if you live you can die, it’s all a risk. There are people who live their lives without a single problem while there are others who have them all. I feel as if I had won the lottery but just the other way round.

Life after the accident

- When did you realize that you have survived?
- When the laborer turned and looked us.

- How was returning to the world as a hero?
- We were all heroes in this story. We did what we could. When you are inside that situation you don’t imagine you can get over it because you are constantly receiving hit after hit, however you stay alive while others die. You can’t even dream that somebody is going to write a book or make a film about what you are living in that moment. We were condemned but I came back and I could keep eating pizza in “La Mazcota”.
I’m the figure that came after what happened; But it’s traumatic because you have the same appearance you had before and you go out to eat some pizza and everybody treats you as if you were different; You are devastated inside yourself and you have obviously changed and people recognize you and treats you as a hero.

- How did the press receive you?
- All the press received us well but the tabloid. Tabloid press had always existed but I have never had the opportunity, fortunately or unfortunately, of meeting any tabloid press journalist who could say something about us in our presence.

- The Church doesn’t consider what happened as a communion but as an act of inspiration, how did you feel when you saw that some people mistake that communion with cannibalism?
- That’s their problem. Here in Uruguay nobody has condemned me.

- It was “a miracle” to you having survived, or it was just “something provoked or made by men’s hand”?
- It was a hundred per cent men’s hand, I didn’t feel other hand. Here people has romanticized the story but I can tell you that it wasn’t nice at all

- Did that prove that you have to pass change your attitude towards life?
- It has given me the opportunity to believe in human spirit, in people, what people is able to do facing some situations; all that helped me on my way, comparing my problems today with the ones we faced at the Andes, today’s problems are very small. I consider my problems and I say, luckily I’ve problems. Today I should be buried in a glacier.
I’m optimistic in a hundred per cent.

- Did you ever played rugby again?
- Yes, I came back to play and I played almost five years after that.

- Do you keep in touch with the other survivors?
- Yes, two or three times a year we reunite all and we go with our wives somewhere for the weekend and the 22nd October is sacred.

- I want you to tell me something about your mother.
- I have the greatest memory about her but I’ve never cried over her, and I did cry for Panchito Aval (who died at the Andes too), but nature is wise and time goes by.

- Would you like to live some message for those who are interested in this topic?
- I don’t have anything to… I have the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s all, I’m not a Messiah who can reveal something important, I’m just like any other person, anyone of Old Boys could have been invited in that plane or that could have happened to Old Boys’ team in some trip. What’s the different thing about us? Nothing. We are rugby players from a school that were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
These are personal things very difficult to transmit. I have the possibility of comparing. This difficult moment we are in, compared with the moments we suffered there, to me is like a kid’s game. So I’m optimistic, come on, we are doing things, if it is a cloudy day, O.K the sun will rise tomorrow. Here there is no financial crisis or monetary. Actually we burnt money.

- And he became a businessman. He did motor racing, he sailed across rivers, he did expeditions thought the Sahara, he has been in Alaska, he traveled around Europe and South America on motorbike, and the most important thing to him is that he made a beautiful family; he has two daughters Veronica and Cecilia and this is the way he want to be remembered as a father and a friend.
He will always wonder if what he did at the Andes was because of the boy he was: healthy, strong, and full of energy; or if he is what he is because of what he did at the Andes...

Hero: Person who does something heroically, man who stands out because of his feats and virtues.
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