Survivors of the ‘Miracle in the Andes’ were among those who gathered in Montevideo earlier this month for a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the air accident.
On 13 October, 1972 Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into a mountain in the Andes, during a flight to Santiago, carrying 45 passengers and crew.
Among those on the plane were 19 members of the Old Christians Club rugby team, who were travelling to Chile to play a match against the Old Grangonian Club.
Initially, 33 people survived the crash but the extreme conditions they faced over the next two months led to the death of a further 13 passengers.
By the time the passengers were rescued on 23 December, 1972, after two of them, Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa had climbed a mountain peak and hiked across the Argentine border into Chile to seek help, 16 remained.
Every year on the anniversary of the accident, Old Christians and Old Grangonians meet for the multi-sport Friendship Cup, which includes the ‘match that was never played’.
The annual tournament is relished by members of both clubs as two teams twinned for life by the tragic events in the Andes compete in an atmosphere of camaraderie and companionship.
Old Christians hosted the 48th Friendship Cup on 15 October, to mark the 50th anniversary, commemorate those who lost their lives and celebrate the feats of those who defied adversity to save others.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont spoke at an emotional ceremony held at the club’s San Patricio ground during the weekend.
He paid tribute to the survivors, six of whom were present, and the bravery of the men who trekked into Chile to find help and “whose unimaginable feats saved lives”.
“Theirs is a remarkable story, a story of tragedy and disaster, hope and survival. It is a story that transcended geographical boundaries, capturing the hearts of millions,” he added. “I am truly honoured to be sharing the room with you all.
“This is also a story about family, the rugby family and the enduring bond between two nations, two unions, forged by these events.
“Perhaps no match in the world embodies rugby’s true spirit of solidarity, passion, discipline and teamwork than the annual match between Christian Brothers Old Boys and Old Grangonian. Long may it continue.”
Speaking after the ceremony, Beaumont described the event in Montevideo as “one of the most moving things I’ve ever been to”.
“To meet six of the survivors and to talk to them and go to the museum in Montevideo was extremely humbling and one of the greatest experiences that that I've had in sport,” he said.