An unbelievable tale of survival against all odds, Netflix’s ‘Society of the Snow’ takes the audience into the heart of the story as we follow the passengers of Flight 571 and their desperate bid for survival. Their plane crashes into the Andes, leaving them stranded at a height of more than 11,000ft, with nothing but snow around them. This is not the kind of thing that one would expect to come back from, but sixteen people held strong in the face of what seemed like imminent death. They came back home, but what happened to the victims who died in those 72 days? What happened to their remains?
The Crash Site Has Become the Graveyard and the Memorial Site for the Victims
When Flight 571 took off from Montevideo, Uruguay, it had 40 passengers and five crew members. Out of the 45 people on the plane, 29 people died, leaving only 16 survivors. The entire crew perished during or after the crash, along with a few of the passengers. Some passengers survived the crash, but their injuries rendered them too weak to survive the cold and the hunger, and they eventually succumbed to it. Others were killed in the avalanche that descended on them on the 18th day after the crash.
Rescue finally came after 72 days, when all the sixteen survivors were taken away from the crash site and brought back home. The rescue was executed by the Chilean authorities, but the crash had happened in the territory of Argentina, which made the recovery of the victims’ remains a bit complicated. If it had happened in Chile, the rescuers would have brought back the remains of the deceased, but they decided not to act on that without the approval of the Argentine authorities.
After consulting with the families of the victims, it was decided by the Argentine authorities that the remains of the victims should not be brought back but buried at the crash site. Out of the 28 victims (excluding Rafael Echavarren), only 13 bodies were found to be whole. The survivors had eaten from the other 15 bodies, of which only skeletons remained. It was decided to bury them in a common grave, and a group of people, accompanied by a priest, were sent to the crash site (without the family members of the victims), where the burial took place on January 18, 1973.
The victims were buried together, with a stone altar marking the graves, along with a cross and a memorial plaque. The memorial site still exists in the same place and is even visited by some people who reportedly, embark on the task of retracing the path that Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa took for ten days to find rescue. Expeditioners have also found the belongings of the victims and the survivors there, now that the snow in the mountains has considerably melted, revealing all the things that had been buried in the snow all those years ago.
The only victim who was brought back home was Rafael Echavarren. Reportedly, before he died, he had expressed the desire not to be left behind in the Andes. He asked his friends to get his father to take him back home. To honor his last wish, his remains were not buried but set aside in a marked body bag. Later, his father, Ricardo Echavarren, embarked on an expedition of his own to get his son’s body back. This, however, was not authorized by the Argentine authorities, and when Echavarren came back, he was arrested for grave robbery. Eventually, however, the authorities let him go, and he fulfilled his son’s wish by bringing him back to Uruguay and giving him the funeral he desired.
As for the plane wreckage, it was set on fire, though it is reported that its bottom half survived because it was buried in snow at the time and, hence, didn’t burn. It is still there at the crash site, next to the memorial site of the victims.