In 1972, he and his teammates were traveling to Chile to participate in an international rugby exhibition. Their flight never arrived at its destination; it tragically crashed at 18,000 feet in the Cordillera de los Andes.
In the two-and-a-half months that followed, Nando’s life was changed completely. His mother and younger sister, Susana, were killed in the accident. Nando made a superhuman effort, survived for 72 days, and found his way out of the Andes, after an 10-day snowy trek through the mountains with his friend Roberto Canessa.
Soon after the rescue of the survivors because of the epic passage of Nando and Roberto, the survivors worked with Piers Paul Read to write the bestseller, Alive. Twenty years later, he served as the technical advisor in the production of the film, Alive, where he was played by Ethan Hawke.
Today, he is a renowned speaker and also a successful businessman, sportsman and television producer. He is married to Veronique, and has two daughters, Veronica and Cecilia and his legacy of three grandchildren: Alexia, Máximo and Thor.
Time is a very good healer; it has put a veil over my worst memories and sorrows. I now remember the most awful parts of our ordeal almost as if I had read them in a book. However, when I first returned, I realized the Andes had affected me more than I thought. I saw there was no way to pretend it had not happened, and I tried to learn from the experience, changing my life dramatically.
My family life was destroyed when my mother and sister died in the accident. When I returned home, I had to experience what would have happened if I had actually died. Arriving home almost three months after the crash, my clothes had been given away, my room given to my older sister who had moved in with her family, my posters and photographs had been removed, and my motorbike sold. There was no trace of me, except for some pictures in the living room and in my father’s study. A couple of days after my return, I went to the same pizza place that I used to frequent before the accident. All the young people were astonished to see me. They asked for my autograph, and the owner did not charge me. I was the same person, but something had changed in the way everyone saw me.
Before the crash, my mind was filled with my studies in business administration, but as soon as I came back, I found that I had to exchange my studies for everyday work in our family business that had nearly been destroyed since my mother did half the work.
When you are young, you feel immortal. There is nothing that can modify or destroy you. Through our painful experience, I learned that life is linked to death, that these are the only realities of our existence. You are born, and you will die someday. In between, nobody knows. There are some things — FAMILY, CONFIDENCE and FRIENDSHIP — that I have thought deeply about over the years, and my thoughts were influenced by the Andes experience. I am sure it is the same for the other survivors.
During the seventy-two days we spent in the mountains, there was absolutely nothing to which we could attach ourselves. Everything had lost its meaning. There was no future, no hope. Studies, work, and material things suddenly had no value.
Everyone knew of the need for family affection. Our desire to feel secure in a family, and our need to feel and give the love of a family were the only things that kept us going. So now, after having experienced a human situation where our physical and mental limits were constantly exceeded, I have come to understand that FAMILY is what made us survive.
Our lives honor this. I am extremely happy just to be able to put my daughters to bed every night. This realization has not taken away from my work or “success” in life. I am the CEO of three companies, but there is no business meeting or commercial activity that I would not exchange for the moments of happiness I have with Veronique and my children.
I have learned that moments do not repeat themselves, but the next time, I am dying I know what I will remember: my affections and love, not my businesses, cars, contracts, bank loans, earnings, emails and airports.
The Andes experience also influenced my CONFIDENCE. I have been able to make decisions quite easily in many aspects of life and work because of something that happened in those mountains.
When I was at the top of an 18,000-foot peak with Roberto Canessa, looking at the vast scenery of snowy peaks surrounding us, we knew we were going to die.
There is absolutely no way out.
We then decided how we would die: we would walk towards the sun and the west. It was better than freezing at the top. This decision took us less than thirty seconds. Other decisions made later in life seemed no more difficult than deciding about my own death.
I have gained confidence in myself, a quiet tranquility that has given me a better perception of the world around me. Making decisions became easier because I knew that the worst thing that could happen would be that I was simply wrong. Compared to what I had gone through, that was nothing.
Finally, I have come to understand the value of friendship. It was deeply moving to see young boys helping their friends in ways they could not have imagined, even risking and giving their lives for each other. Friendship was a major factor in our changes to survive, and after we managed to rescue ourselves, we made our friendship with each other a priority in our lives.
Sometimes, I ask myself why people need to experience extreme situations to understand the real values of life. These values are so clear and near to us, yet we rush by them looking for the “important” things. The warmth of my daughters’ embrace at night when I put them to bed or the quiet presence of my wife, Veronique, near me — moments that will not be repeated — these are the important, enduring values.
MRC PARRADO MULTIMEDIA
Nando Parrado is the President of MRC Ltda, a company that has been producing some of the most renowned television programs in Uruguay for the last thirty five years.
He is also the major shareholder of «La Casa del Tornillo (Seler Parrado, SA)», the most prestigious industrial hardware store in Uruguay since 1958.