Into the Mountains Paperback – 1 Mar 2016
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About the Author
Pedro Algorta is one of the sixteen survivors of the Uruguayan plane that crashed in the Andes in 1972. After the accident, he lived in Buenos Aires where he graduated with a degree in Economic Sciences from the University of Buenos Aires, went on to get an MBA from Stanford University and has had a successful business career
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Pedro’s account is very honest and direct, providing a harrowing account of what it took to survive - Living minute by minute, only focusing on the next 24 hours, living by your instincts, learning from mistakes made and constructing a team. It is clear teamwork, taking responsibility for your own survival and hard work was key. I find it particularly interesting that not knowing if they would survive or not actually helped them survive – no complacency. I can only imagine Pedro had to go back to the survival mind-set he had back in the mountains, to share the story he had been carrying in his “back pack” for so long.
It is fascinating to read about the experiences of one of the survivors who had been left behind after Parrado, Canessa and Tintin made the final expedition. This is part of the story that has not been documented in detail in previous books. I always wondered what it was like to completely put your trust into other people and how excruciating the wait for news must have been. How long do you wait?
This is not a book for commercial gain. It is a normal man who had an extraordinary experience realising it was time to talk about it and the realisation that sharing his story could help others. This was particularly evident with his support to the families of the Chilean miners.
The Key take away message from the book is that whatever “mountains” we experience in our lives we are able emerge from them and construct a normal life no more difficult or easier than it was before. After being rescued from the Andes Pedro did not spiral out of control or lap up the media attention, within 3 months he was back to University. Now 45 years on from the crash Pedro has lived a normal life personally with his wife Noelle and 3 children and professionally, including being the CEO of the largest breweries in Argentina. As with many of the other survivors the life Pedro has lived since being rescued from the Andes is as remarkable as his experience on the mountains. The strength of character he has shown is something we can all learn from.
Professionally I thank Pedro for introducing me to Adaptive Leadership. It's an extremely valuable tool.
“Into the Mountains” is a book that will leave you thinking long after you have finished reading.
The story is simply told: the small plane of 45 passengers and 5 crew crashed in the Andes mountains on its way from Montevideo to Santiago. Many died instantly, a few died soon after. 16 persons survived. Hope had been abandoned of finding anyone alive but two of the survivors managed to find their way across the Andes in a ten day trek and get help. The survivors had not choice but to eat the bodies of those already dead.
Pedro Algorta provides a dispassionate, extremely unemotional and lucid account of events. This is a simple tale told dispassionately, a lucid account of a grim tale and is ably translated. On the blurb at the back one Bill George author of Discover your True North and former CEO of Medtronic, tells the reader "You will be moved to tears as I was when the rescue helicopters finally arrive after seventy days." It is for other readers to find out how they feel. I was certainly not moved to tears by an account so level headed as to prompt one rather to shake one's head in amused disbelief than ever feel compelled to weep. Pedro Algorta's survival mechanism and it may indeed have been essential for him, seems to have been to suppress all unnecessary expenditure of energy in emotion in concentrating on survival. He writes of himself that in the early days he moved like a robot. From his writing, it seems that the survivors have made something of a career out of their experience, giving workshops and offering talks. For Algorta, the experience is proffered as a metaphor for Everyman's experience of his/her own mountain to climb. The point he regularly stresses is that human beings and by extension presumably all living things fight to survive for no better or worse reason than the fact that they are very existence is a will to survive (shades of Nietzsche here, but our writer is not one to cite Nietzsche or any other human sage.) Team work consists in assuring that each person carries out the task for which he or she is best disposed and so argues Algorta, the sixteen survived against considerable odds.
The sensational part of the story, which I personally do not find sensational at all but must account for the fact that what happened has been widely commented on, and even made into a film, is the fact that the survivors had no choice but to eat their dead companions. Algorta makes no issue of this at all. He records it as a necessity which arose in the course of time after supplies had run out. After he was rescued he frequently observes that people were kind and there was no condemnation of what the survivors did. Only once did someone say that a group of workers would be afraid that Algorta might eat them. (It is not clear whether this was an earnest remark or a joke). Algorta is angry at what he calls this "disrespectful" comment, which seems to have been an exception. But Algorta himself is quite nonchalant in referring to the fact that the survivors discovered that uncooked human flesh is more nourishing than cooked, the survivors played practical jokes with severed hands, and when the rescue helicopters land, Algorta provides us with a moment of sheer slapstick. He has been keeping a hand in his pocket which he has been chewing at from time to time. As he rushes towards the rescue helicopter he remembers with horror that the hand is still in his pocket and he just has time to take it out and throw the snack away in the snow before he reaches his rescuers. The writer is at pains to insist that the survivors behaved in a civilized way and to refute as it were the negative "anti-Rousseau novel", William Golding's "Lord of the Flies." William Golding is actually mentioned in this book. Piers Paul Read is quoted as mentioning to Algorta that William Golding wrote a negative review of his book "Alive", the first book on the event. Golding's "anti-Rousseau" novel presents humans as essentially "red in tooth and claw" and liable at the drop of a hat, or in the case of his novel, the drop of a schoolboy cap, to revert to murder and mayhem when unrestrained by the mores and structures of civilization. "Within limits" writes Algorta, "we are a demonstration that this assumption is wrong." Yes and no. Golding's view of human nature is indeed an extremely bleak one. In his world the Lord of the flies (Beelzebub) is within the human, is part of who we are. In the optimistic view presented here by Pedro Algorta, human beings cooperate under duress and live peacefully together, helping and tending in a cooperative effort which has nothing of Darwin's survival of the fittest or Golding's cruel and savage schoolboys about it. There are two answers to this: firstly, humans, even or especially when stripped down to bear necessity and the need to survive, do not all behave in the same way in terms of reason, intelligence or ethics. It seems that the survivors of Flight 571 were a kindly, intelligent and resourceful lot. What happened in New Orleans and especially the Super Dome in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, tells a very different story of human nature confronted by sudden calamity the raw need to survive. The second point is that the survivors of Flight 571 were rescued before their supply of human flesh ran out. Algorta notes that it was neither God nor ideal of any kind which helped him to survive, nor the wish to see again any special person or place. "In the Andes I had no other goal than to live another day. I thought that I might have a chance of getting out if I always stayed alive, every instant, because I wanted to live not for any external objective, but simply because I wanted to preserve my life, I wanted to keep on living." Quite so. At a given point of necessity, however nature "red in tooth and claw" will apply. until then, in a time of need like this each of us should hope to be with persons of the resourcefulness and capacity of the survivors of Flight 571.