Alive Summary

Piers Paul Read


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Alive Summary

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Alive, by Piers Paul Read, chronicles the harrowing tale of survivors of an airplane crash. The plane, traveling from Uruguay to Chile, went down over the Andes mountains after on October 13, 1972. The flight carried forty-five passengers, including fifteen members of the Old Christians Rugby team. The other passengers were family and friends of the team, as well as the five crew members. When the plane took off from Montevideo, Uruguay, the members of the rugby team were all close friends, and had been since attending Stella Maris College.

Flying over the Andes mountain range is not easy. Air patterns are treacherous and unpredictable. The plane was grounded once, mid-flight, but was able to resume the journey the next day. They were on their way to Santiago and preparing to descend, when the plane lost contact and crashed into a mountain. For eight days, both the Chilean and Argentinian governments searched for the plane and any survivors. In those eight days, the lives of the survivors changed drastically.

They began by taking inventory and treating wounds as much as they possibly could, given the circumstances. The plane wasn’t stocked with food though, so the survivors ate and drank gifts purchased for friends and family—mostly wine and chocolate. Because they crashed on a mountain in the winter, there wasn’t much flora or fauna on which they could subsist. The only natural resource they could find was frozen water, but they had no way to melt it efficiently.

For two weeks, they survived like this in the mountains, but they were weak. Food, though rationed, was completely consumed within those two weeks. With the weather worsening as winter got further under way, the survivors suffered an avalanche while they were asleep, and more of them perished. After that, rescue seemed hopeless, and they turned their focus to trying to stay alive until the springtime.

With their food gone, they resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. They ate the muscle of the deceased. Because of the extreme cold, those who died in the crash had been perfectly preserved. The decision to eat those in their party who had perished did not come easily, but without doing so, they too would have died. Because they chose to nourish their bodies with the bodies of the deceased, they managed to live through the rest of the winter.

The survivors managed to find a way to cook. They made hammocks where the wounded could rest. They crafted mittens to fend off frostbite. The two strongest members of their party left to hike from the crash site in order to find help, and by the time spring came, Canessa and Parrado had hiked sixty miles through the mountains. They came upon civilization ten days later. Seventy days had passed since the plane crashed, but after Canessa and Parrado showed up, the government began searching again.

On December 22, 1972, the remaining survivors were rescued. The rescuers brought them to a base camp before taking them to St. John of God in San Fernando. There, they were able to recover from what injuries they endured, as well as the starvation and weight loss that resulted from the ordeal. They were reunited with their friends and family, but these reunions were ambivalent because they’d survived in the wild for so long, and endured so many physical, mental, and emotional trials that they had difficulty adjusting to life in civilization. They turned to faith to get them through those seventy days, and when they got back to San Fernando, everything about life there seemed excessive to them, and though the media swarmed them and feasted on their story, the survivors just wanted to live in quiet solitude.

Published in 1974, Alive was an instant success. The New York Times called Read’s style “savage: unliterary, undecorated as a prosecutor’s brief,” but continued to say, of the survivors, that Read: “made them human. ‘Alive’ is thunderous entertainment: I know the events by rote, nonetheless I found it electric. And important.” In 1993, the book was adapted for the silver screen in a film titled Alive: The Miracle of the Andes. Simultaneously, a documentary titled Alive: 20 Years Later was produced.

Piers Paul Read is best known for Alive, which won the Thomas More Medal. Read is a novelist, historian, and biographer who often writes about the Catholic faith. Specifically, his works focus on sin and redemption. He’s written many novels, the most notable being The Death of a Pope in 2009. In addition to Alive, he’s written other nonfiction such as The Train Robbers and Hell and Other Destinations (Hell and Other Essays in the United States). A British author, Read is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.