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'Alive' survivors finally fulfil fixture
October 14, 2002

The Uruguayan rugby players who survived a plane crash in the Andes mountains and were later the subject the film Alive have finally played the fixture they missed.

The tragedy happened on 13 October 1972, when the Uruguayan Old Christians team were en route to Chile to play the Old Boys in the Copa Amistad tournament.

When all hope had been lost, 16 players were rescued after enduring 72 days in the ice and snow and eating the flesh of thier teammates who had died.

Hollywood put their story on film in 1993 with Alive starring amongst others Ethan Hawke.

The focal point of a commemorative trip was a symbolic match between 14 of the Uruguayan survivors and members of the Chilean squad they had been scheduled to face 30 years ago.

In the event, the Old Christians beat the Old Boys 28-11 in the Chilean capital, Santiago.

"Getting here shows us that, finally, we have twisted destiny's arm and overcome adversity," said back Robert Canessa.

The only concession to their age was the length of the match, only 50 minutes instead of the usual 80 minutes.

Of the 45 people on the flight, 13 were killed on impact.

Others died soon afterward from their injuries and an avalanche. The rest got by for a few days on the little chocolate and wine they had brought along for a flight that was supposed to last only a few hours.

As food ran out, the survivors heard on the radio that rescuers had given up their search for the plane.

That was when they decided to dig up some of the dead bodies they had buried in the snow nearby and eat them.

Most are still unashamed of the decision that led them to eat even the lungs and intestines of their fallen teammates and relatives.

"We only regret not having eaten human flesh earlier, before waiting for 10 days to do it, but we had to go through that time to get used to the idea," survivor Carlos Paez told a news conference in Chile last week.

Two of the men, including Canessa, set out to cross the mountains in search of help. They were discovered by a rancher 10 days later and led rescue helicopters back to the site.

Roman Catholic priests celebrated a Mass on the rugby pitch before Saturday's game and two Chilean air force helicopters landed on the grass to symbolize the rescue.

"To this day, the sound of helicopter rotor blades makes the hair on my arm stand on end," said survivor Javier Methol. "You should not fear death but live your life fully," he said.

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