How did 16 men survive a 1972 plane crash in the Andes? The Netflix movie, “Society of the Snow,” answers that question with a story of a remarkable feat of daring. 

If it sounds familiar, other media has covered the crash, including “Alive,” a 1993 movie, and the podcast “Against the Odds,” where I originally heard the tale last year and was riveted. 

But seeing it on the screen was another thing entirely. And for several days after my family watched the movie, we kept bumping into this question: If we crashed into the same bone-numbing conditions, if hopes of rescue were iced out, if carefully rationed food was devoured more quickly than planned, and if death was a constant and unwelcome companion, what would we do? Would we give up or figure a way out? 

Here’s how the catastrophe went down. 

A chartered flight with 45 people – including members of the Old Christians rugby union team, a few friends, and some family members – departed Montevideo, Uruguay, on Oct. 13, 1972. 

As Lieutenant-Colonel Dante Héctor Lagurara piloted the aircraft toward their landing site in Santiago, Chile, the unimaginable became reality. Reading his instruments wrong, he believed he had overflown the point at which he was to turn and descend toward Santiago. Instead, when visual flight conditions cleared, he saw his plane headed toward the mountain, which it soon struck, “shearing off both wings and the tail cone,” Wikipedia explains. “The remaining portion of the fuselage slid down a glacier at an estimated 350 km/h (220 mph), descending 725 metres (2,379 ft) before ramming into an ice and snow mound.” 

Several died immediately, while others died after the crash, shriveled from hunger, injuries, or exposure to harsh elements.

In the end, 16 members of the rugby team survived, living through 72 days in the snow at an altitude of 11,710 feet. How did they do it? 

Jason Selk, a premier sports psychologist and speaker, says it’s because crash survivors like Nando Parrado were about the relentless pursuit of solutions. 

Selk gave a talk at a Chicago conference my husband Chris attended, telling the group that to focus on solutions while under duress is unbelievable. This is partially because our default mode as humans is NOT to seek answers; it’s to fall back and protect. Especially when cortisol – our stress hormone – is active. 

But we can flip the switch, Selk says, and in those situations, decide to pursue solutions – relentlessly. Which is exactly what Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa did, hiking for 10 days and 38 miles to get help.

Nando Alabama News

Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa (seated).

Those men could have withered under the fury of their circumstances, but they didn't. They pressed on.

Despite profound grief.

Despite the loss of mothers, sisters, and best friends.

Despite the horror of it all, they came together, united in the pursuit of solutions.

And if they lived like that, on a snowy, unforgiving mountainside in Western Argentina, we can too.

Instead of being satisfied with hiding out in the hollows of our lives, too often taking the safe route, choosing the less terrifying way, we, too, can choose the hard way. Daily, we can choose to NOT be victims.

And that choice can't help but change us. And those around us.

But we also must have the mental toughness that the 16 men exhibited. Yes, they were young. And healthy. And full of life. But they possessed uncommon grit.

I want what they had. And I want it for our kids and our families, too.

I want us to grow a culture of Bison – the only animals that head into storms.

Amie Beth Shaver is a speaker, writer and media commentator. Her column appears every Wednesday in 1819 News. Shaver served on the Alabama GOP State Executive Committee, was a candidate for State House District 43 and spokeswoman for Allied Women.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].

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