Plane crash survivors become cannibals: The true story behind Society of the Snow.

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a horror movie

In October 1972, a plane carrying 45 passengers, including a rugby team, crashed in the Andes mountains in Argentina. What followed was the young men having to grapple with the unthinkable: surviving by eating the dead bodies of their friends, family and teammates. 

The harrowing story forms the basis of a new Netflix movie, Society of the Snow, which has already been nominated for a Golden Globe and is primed for Academy Awards success.

The Spanish-language film takes a delicate approach to the horrific events of the Uruguayan plane crash in 1972, sensitively relaying how the group of young men survived for 72 days in the snow with no means of finding food or reprieve from the subzero temperatures. 

Watch the trailer for Society of the Snow. Post continues after video.

Video via Netflix. 

The Netflix movie comes from director JA Bayona, who headed up the 2004 tsunami movie The Impossible, and is inspired by the 2008 book of the same name by journalist Pablo Vierci, a friend of the survivors, who also served as an associate producer. 


In preparation for filming, Bayona conducted interviews with the men who lived through the experience, with one survivor, Carlitos Páez, playing his own father in the film.

The director opted to not focus too much on the cannibalism element, with scenes of the men eating human remains not shown on film, rather alluded to in faraway shots.

"This is a horrible story that is never focused on the horror," he told BBC Culture. "The way we approach the story is quite the opposite. It's focused on the human aspect of the story and on the friendship, on the extreme generosity they had to each other."

So what actually happened? The details of the real story are disturbing to say the least.

The true story that inspired Netflix movie Society of the Snow. 

On October 12, 1972, an amateur Old Christians Club rugby team boarded a flight from Montevideo, Uruguay to Santiago, Chile for an exhibition match. Due to bad weather, the plane was forced to land in Mendoza, Argentina.

The next day, even though the weather was still chaotic and there were high winds, the plane took off for Santiago. It would never reach its destination.

The aircraft could not fly directly over the Andes Mountain range, so the pilots attempted to fly in a U-shape to cruise through the mountain pass, but they descended too quickly and instead crashed into a mountain in Argentina.

Both wings and the tail tore off, splitting the plane in half, and the wreckage slid down the mountain until it hit the bottom of the valley. "I was thrown with an incredible force, and as I was fainting, I was realising that I was alive and the plane had stopped," survivor Roberto Canessa told ABC News in 2023.


Three crew members and nine passengers were killed on impact, and the remaining survivors made a shelter out of the remains of the plane's fuselage, which measured around 2.4m by 2.7m.

During their first night stranded in the snow, another five passengers died as a result of their injuries.

By day 10, the survivors learned that no one was coming to find them – they heard on the plane's transistor radio that the search had been called off.

A scene of the wreckage in Society of the Snow. Image: Netflix. 


Aside from trying to stay alive in subzero temperatures, the other problem the crash survivors faced was the lack of water and food. 

For water, they made a device out of metal from the wreckage to melt the snow using sunlight. But food proved a much bigger issue: there was no vegetation, nor animals to hunt, and between them, the survivors only had eight chocolate bars, a tin of mussels, three jars of jam, a tin of almonds and several bottles of wine to keep them going. 

Eventually, after lengthy discussions and debates, the survivors had to accept their only option for food: the bodies of the passengers who had died.

"We shook our hands and we say, 'If I die, please use my body. So at least you can get out of here. And tell my family how much I love them,'" Parrado told ABC News.

In Canessa's autobiography, he detailed how exactly the group consumed the bodies. "We laid thin strips of frozen flesh aside on a piece of sheet metal," he wrote. "Each of us finally consumed our piece when we could bear to."


At first, the passengers only ate the skin, muscle and fat of the dead but as the days ticked on, they eventually consumed organs from the corpses, which were preserved by the cold.

As if their situation couldn't get any more dire, an avalanche then hit the plane, killing another eight passengers and leaving the survivors trapped for three days with the corpses, which they ended up eating raw.

"It's a very, very humiliating thing to eat a dead body," Canessa told ABC News. "[But] I had to buy time, and to buy time, I had to eat the dead bodies."

A scene of the young men in Society of the Snow. Image: Netflix.


The survivors eventually dug their way out and decided to send Canessa and Nando Parrado to trek down the mountains to find help. They wrapped themselves in layers of clothing and used parts of the plane to sleep in.

"We may be walking to our deaths, but I would rather walk to meet my death than wait for it to come to me," Parrado recalled telling Canessa, speaking on TV program Outside.

"We have been through so much. Now, let's go die together," Canessa replied.

After 10 days of hiking through the snow, they were saved by Chilean shepherds who went to get help.

Out of the 33 passengers who survived the initial crash, only 16 were rescued, with the bodies of the dead left at the glacier's peak and eventually buried in a mass grave on site, which is popular among mountaineers today.

After being rescued, the survivors were treated for malnutrition and scurvy among other serious conditions.

"It was incredible, to see people that were rugby players, who were pretty strong, now they were almost skeletons," TV reporter Alipio Vera told ABC News.


Chilean Army officers escort Fernando Parrado. Image: Getty. 

At first, the survivors didn't admit to eating the victims of the plane crash. However, after images of a half-eaten leg covered the front page of two Chilean newspapers, prompting worldwide speculation, the team held a press conference to address the media. 


They revealed the group's pact to sacrifice their bodies, comparing their choices to Jesus at the Last Supper. As the survivors were Roman Catholics, they spoke about fearing eternal damnation, but Pope John Paul II and the Catholic Church later absolved the survivors of any wrongdoing.

Is Yellowjackets based on the true story that inspired Society of the Snow

The story of the Andes survivors was first told in book-to-movie adaption Alive, starring Ethan Hawke, in 1993, but pop culture fans will clock that a lot of the events mirror what happened in the popular female-led series Yellowjackets.

Yellowjackets follows the aftermath of a group of teenage girls on a soccer team who have to survive after a plane they're on travelling to a match crashes in the Canadian wilderness. The girls eventually turn to cannibalism in order to feed themselves, drawing obvious parallels to the Andes crash.

In the case of their real-life counterparts, it was a Uruguayan rugby team who were on their way to play a tournament in Chile when their plane went down.

Yellowjackets writer Ashley Lyle has confirmed the series was inspired by Alive, the movie based on the event, along with the 1954 sci-fi novel, Lord of the Flies.

"I think both of those were pretty formative for me," Lyle told NPR.

You can stream Society of the Snow on Netflix. 

Feature image: Netflix.