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The trip starts
On October 12, 1972, at 8:05 in the morning, the Fairchild F-227 issue number 571 by the Uruguayan Air Force took off from Carrasco airport in Montevideo, for Santiago de Chile. Onboard were forty passengers and five crew members.
[ See passengers list ]

Among the passengers were members of the Old Christians rugby team, together with their friends and relatives. The flight plan was to cover the 1,500 km distance between Montevideo and Santiago in approximately four hours. While they were flying over Argentinean territory, the commander, Julio César Ferradas and the co-pilot Dante Héctor Lagurara, were notified of poor weather conditions in the Andes mountains. They decided to interrupt the flight with a stop at the Mendoza airport.
Although he had crossed over the Andes twenty nine times, Ferradas was worried about the flight.
The Fairchild F-227 number 571
While the mountain chain is only 170 meters wide, the peaks´ average height is 4,000 meters. The tallest mountain, Mendoza´s Aconcagua mountain, reaches 6,959 meters in height and is the highest peak on the American continent. As the Fairchild could only ascend to 7,000 meters, the crew had to find a pass with lower peaks.


Fateful Friday the 13th
The next day, Friday, October 13, the sky had partially cleared up and at 2:18 pm the plane took off again. The Fairchild, one of the planes acquired by the Uruguayan Air Force in 1970, had logged only 972 flight hours and co-pilot Lagurara, in the process of being trained by Col. Ferrada, was flying the plane.
Distance travelled by the plane and place of the crash
Lagurara flew the plane at 18,000 feet (5,486 m) towards Malargue, on the Argentine side of the Planchon Pass. There was a variable tail wind of 20 to 60 knots and thick clouds. At 3:08 pm he informed the Malargüe airport of their position and he estimated that at 15:21 pm they would be reaching Planchon, where Mendoza air transit control ended and Pudahuel air transit control, in Santiago de Chile, began. According to the records, at 15:21, Lagurara radioed Santiago airport with an update that he was flying over the Planchon pass and that he anticipated reaching the small Chilean town of Curicó at 3:52 pm.
Co-pilot Lagurara and commander Ferradas during the lay-over in Mendoza-Argentina

The moderate tail wind speed had increased, so they reduced the plane cruising speed from 210 to 180 knots. At 3:24, three minutes after their first communication with Santiago, the Fairchild notified air traffic control that Curicó was at sight and that they were heading for Maipú, for which they turned the plane north. In spite of the estimated time difference, Santiago air traffic control considered the information given by Lagurara to be correct and authorized him to slowly go down to 3,500 meters, in order to aim at Pudahuel airport.
At 3:30, the Santiago control checked that the plane had descended 1,000 meters. During the descent, at 4,600 meters, the Fairchild dipped into the clouds and started shaking and falling into air pockets. At that moment, when Ferradas ordered the passengers to fasten their seat belts, the plane entered a strong descending stream of air and violently descended several hundred meters.
Inside the plane, before the accident

The happy and relaxed mood among the passengers suddenly changed to fear and anxiety. The plane abruptly plummeted again and those passengers next to the windows were astonished to see that the plane was below the clouds and only a few meters from the mountain peaks. Then they heard the roar of engines, as the pilots, in a desperate manoeuvre, attempted to gain height again. The plane rose slightly, but it was too late. The right wing of the airplane crashed against the mountain and a terrible noise was heard. The wing splintered off and was hurled back, smashing down on the fuselage and breaking the Fairchild's tail section off. The steward, navigator and three passengers tied to their seats fell down through the hole and immediately afterward, the left wing struck rock and broke loose.
Without the wings, part of the fuselage and the tail, the remains of the plane slid over the snow like a toboggan at great speed. Those who remember the moment had thought they would crash against the rocks or fall into an abyss but fortune made the fuselage slide into a valley where it was slowed down by friction against the thick snow layer. The sudden deceleration caused the seats to break loose. The passengers fell forward colliding against each other and knocking down the partition that separated the passenger cabin from the forward luggage compartment.

Part of the fuselage used as home during the 72 days.
The fuselage came to a stop and a silence followed the impact. Screams, complaints, moans, prayers and shouts for help started to be heard. A mood of disbelief and desolation invaded the place as the survivors began to free themselves from their seats. The penetrating smell of plane fuel spread and made some passengers jump outside of the wreckage in fear of fire or an explosion. Some immediately started assisting the wounded by taking off the seats and removing the dead. Others had lost consciousness due to the shock.


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