A Survivor Recalls the Harrowing 1972 Plane Crash Behind Society of the Snow

A Survivor Recalls the Harrowing 1972 Plane Crash Behind Society of the Snow

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Society of the Snow.

From Lord of the Flies to Lost to Yellowjackets, fictional stories about plane crashes leaving people stranded in the wilderness have long been fodder for popular entertainment. These narratives generally delve into the dark side of human nature, often centering on how the survivors eventually turn against one another under the stress of such dire circumstances.

But in Society of the Snow, now streaming on Netflix, director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) tells the true story of how 16 members and supporters of a Uruguayan rugby team managed to survive 72 days in one of the world’s harshest environments by doing the opposite. While the movie is plenty harrowing, it’s also a moving account of how those who lived through the now-infamous 1972 crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 banded together to overcome nearly two and a half months of starvation, frigid temperatures, and extreme weather events while trapped on a remote glacier high in the Andes Mountains.

One survivor, Roberto Canessa (played by Matías Recalt)—who was a 19-year-old medical student at the time of the crash and is now in his 70s—tells TIME that watching Bayona’s films The Impossible and When a Monster Calls made him feel like the director had a unique talent for making movies about human beings under maximum stress.

“This is more than a movie. This is an experience we had to share with humanity to show people who are having their own mountain crashes how to be resourceful and how not to give up,” he says of consulting with Bayona on the making of Society of the Snow. “Human beings undergo a transformation in cases like this. There is a real metamorphosis from being a rugby player to becoming a survivor of a plane crash. I believe people have that potential.”

Roberto Canessa
Roberto CanessaGuillermo Scott Truan

Based on Pablo Vierci’s 2008 book of the same name, Society of the Snow was partly shot in the same location where the real plane crashed. While the story of the 1972 disaster has been brought to the screen before—most notably in director Frank Marshall’s 1993 film Alive and as an inspiration for Yellowjackets—this is the first time the survivors and families of the deceased have allowed their real names to be used.

“At the heart of the book, there is this message that says that when everything has been taken from someone, you still have a chance of deciding what to do—why do you want to live? For whom do you want to die?” Bayona told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s the first time we’re telling the story of the whole society and that was very important.”

The historical thriller is Spain’s Oscar entry and Bayona’s first film in Spanish since his 2007 breakout The Orphanage.

Here’s what to know about the true story behind Society of the Snow.

How did the plane crash?

On Oct. 12, 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 took off from Montevideo, Uruguay, with 45 people (40 passengers and five crew members) on board. The plane had been chartered by the Old Christians Club amateur rugby team to transport the team’s players, friends, and family members to Santiago, Chile, for an exhibition match.

Due to bad weather, the plane was forced to land in Mendoza, Argentina, and stay overnight. The following afternoon, on Oct. 13, the plane again set out for Santiago with a charted course that would allow it to bypass the heart of the Andes and fly through a lower mountain pass. However, a little over an hour into the flight, the pilot misjudged his location and—with clearance from air traffic control—began to descend before the plane had made it out of the Andes. Unable to clear the ridgeline, it struck a mountain, losing both wings and its tail on impact. The front end of the plane then slid down the mountain before landing in a valley at an altitude of approximately 11,500 feet.

Roberto Canessa at the site of the real-life 1972 Andes plane crash
Roberto Canessa at the site of the real-life 1972 Andes plane crashGuillermo Scott

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