Interview with Nando Parrado, ex-rugby player and one of the 16 survivors of the Andes airplane crash in 1972. Author of the book Miracle in the Andes (2006).
You are respected for overcoming the unfortunate event you experienced, you are admired for how you reacted and you are considered a hero for what you did. You aided in the survival of the team after the crash and you learned how to take the positive from that terrible event.
As a survivor and true leader, we’d love to share your story of loss and triumph with our readers.
When the plane crashed into the Andes, you took on the role of leader. What previous knowledge and experiences helped you take control of that situation?
The main problem was that the real leaders died in the accident. They were the leaders in society, at the university, on the playing field. Those of us who weren’t leaders had to adapt to the situation and leaders began to appear in accordance with the circumstances. I think I was helped by the pragmatism my father had instilled in me. I immediately realised that the situation was very complicated and that there was little chance of survival.
What are the keys to being a good leader?
I think that a leader should have a wide variety of knowledge, perspectives and skills to do what has to be done. But that doesn’t mean that he or she has all the answers. You have to have the courage to admit your mistakes and the ability to trust in others, in your own instincts and intellect. You have to have resilience when going after a goal and the courage to make a difficult decision, stick with it and justify it. But, above all, a leader must generate confidence.
How did organisation and teamwork influence the good outcome of the event?
If we had not been a great rugby team, we wouldn’t have survived. If it had been a commercial flight, with people of different ages, ethnic groups, educational backgrounds, religions, speaking different languages, travelling alone, or with their families, it would have been very difficult to find a leader in the first few hours like we had. Without our leader, we wouldn’t have been able to survive the first night. He was the one who decided to create a wall to prevent the wind and cold from getting into the broken body of the plane.
Knowing your history, we are completely convinced that you are an optimistic person: you manage to see the good side of things even in the face of adversity. How did you manage not to break down and to keep fighting for 72 days?
The truth is that there was no choice! You’re in the middle of a huge problem that you can’t get out of. I didn’t want those mountains to take my life, everything that I had dreamt of experiencing, and I was going to fight them. It seems romantic – but it was pragmatic. I was going to keep fighting to my last breath. My love for my father made me capable of doing inhumane things, both physically and mentally, out of sheer desire to live. I wanted to tell him that he hadn’t lost everything – that I was still alive.
There’s no doubt that the mind plays a fundamental role in extreme situations. How did you keep it “occupied” for so long? What images went through your head?
I suppose it’s similar to being a prisoner, but having the knowledge that you are going to die. It wasn’t easy to accept. I spent hours planning a possible escape and a lot of time, imagined eating sweet, sugary food.
What advice would you give someone who is in an uncertain situation that they don’t know how or when will end?
That it’s up to him to make it change. If he does anything- everything will stay the same.
What was the biggest lesson you learnt over those 72 days?
How wonderful it is to be alive and enjoy the present. The future isn’t here yet and the past has already gone.
Your priorities are sure to have changed radically since the accident. Could you give us an example of the main or most radical changes?
I don’t know what my priorities were before as I didn’t analyse them. Now my priorities are my family, my dogs, my friends, my sports, my passions and my business ventures, in that order.
After surviving the accident, is there anything since then that has scared you more? What are your current fears?
I have all the fears that anyone has: fear of sickness, of the loss of loved ones, of violence, of terrorist attacks, etc.
You have had several professions. Of everything you’ve done, what do you like most? Why?
My profession as a journalist specialising in cars and racing -it has allowed me to drive everything that many only dream of.
As an expert in extreme and exhausting situations (sometimes looking for a job is one), what would you recommend to someone who is looking for work?
Not to ease up, ever!
To finish up, in a few words, the word IMPOSSIBLE means…
that something is not POSSIBLE. And really, there are things that are impossible, so they have to be given their true meaning. Sometimes I’m surprised by definitions that say that nothing is impossible if we push ourselves beyond the possibilities of a human being, but it’s not like that. There are impossible situations, where there is no way out. They use that word as an example in business but, in other aspects of life, it is VERY valid. There are situations that it is IMPOSSIBLE to survive; if not, ask the Air Malaysia passengers that were shot down over the Ukraine.
All images from: http://www.parrado.com/
Interested in reading this article in Spanish? Click here.