Library commemorates victims of 1972 Andes plane crash

By Alejandro Prieto and Santiago Carbone

Montevideo, Oct 10 (EFE).- Sowing the seeds of the future via books is the impulse that, despite the passing generations, keeps alive the library founded by the mothers of those who 50 years ago died in the Andes air tragedy, a project pursued to somewhat alleviate the pain that “is always there.”

A small white flowerpot of clover accompanied by the phrase “Courage and faith” welcomes visitors to the road dominated by green that leads to the historic house in Montevideo’s Carrasco neighborhood that, since 1973, has operated as the Nuestros Hijos (Our Children) Library.

There, in rows, grow the plants placed by the library’s founders: Sara Vazquez, Maria Gelsi, Selva Ibarburu, Nene Caubarrere, Gladys Rosso, Lita Petralgia, Raquel Arocena, Raquel Paullier, Stella Ferreira, Helida Riet, Bimba Cornah, Agnes Vallendor and Ana Maria Nebel – the mothers of those who “did not return” from the mountains.

“Thirteen mothers joined together, those who could, and asked themselves ‘What can we do?’ They considered many ideas until Agnes Valeta suggested creating a free student lending library,” Stella Perez del Castillo, one of the sisters of Marcelo, who died 17 days after the plane crashed in the Andes, told EFE.

The daughter of Ferreira also recalled what the family’s reaction was when, accompanied by the other women, her mother came up with the idea just nine months after the rescue of the 16 survivors.

“We told them that they were crazy to begin something of this kind. In the end, it was marvelous. Mama always said that at first they talked 10 percent about what the project was going to become and 90 percent about the (plane crash), but in the end it was the other way around.”

Claudia Perez del Castillo, Stella’s sister, recalled how difficult it was at that time to experience the return of those who survived.

“We had the bad luck of having to deal with this bitter pill. Even today, I remember the moment they read the list at home and it was horrible,” she said.

Stella, who these days along with Claudia and other relatives is on the library’s board of directors, said that there the mothers found “a second home” where, despite their collective silence, “they knew that the others were feeling exactly the same thing.”

The tragedy still lies just under the surface for the families 50 years after the accident that burst into the headlines of the world press because of the extreme efforts the survivors had to make to stay alive after the Uruguayan air force plane chartered by an amateur rugby team that took off en route to Santiago, Chile, and – after making a stop in Mendoza – crashed into the Argentine side of the Andes.

Despite the fact that the authorities ended the search for the plane on the 10th day after the Oct. 13, 1972, crash, the relatives “never lost hope.” Stella and Claudia’s mother even resorted to consulting two seers seeking information about the whereabouts of her son Marcelo, the captain of the Old Christians rugby team that organized the flight.

“Mama went with a girlfriend and a sister to another seer, here in Uruguay, taking one of Marcelo’s garments. That was on Oct. 28, and (the seer) took the garment and said, ‘This is warm, I sense the smell of chocolate, a lot of chocolate, that is to say, there is life, but they have to find your son today,'” she recalled.

The very next day, Marcelo – who had survived the crash – died in an avalanche that partially covered the plane’s semi-intact fuselage, where the survivors had sheltered.

The desperation within the family was evident because their father had died three years earlier and Marcelo had become “like a father” to them, and even today they still feel an enormous emptiness due to his absence.

“The pain is always there, just a little bit calmer in my heart. In the name of your children or your siblings you’re helping and, although it seems just a little drop, it makes up part of the sea,” she said, adding that her brother was “an adorable person.”

Continuing with her aunt’s initiative, Maria del Carmen Perrier, one of Stella’s daughters, recently published a book titled “Del otro lado de la montaña” (From the other side of the mountain), that tells how the accident affected the families.

The library, which will soon pass into the hands of a new generation, has a reading club and a system of scholarships for low-income students. The center began operating at a time when “the Internet didn’t exist,” but now it has found an ally online, Stella said.

To remain up to date, the library is now offering computer classes, the aim of which is also to make the center “a cultural venue.” Thus, the library continues to open up new horizons for people in its desire to contribute to the education of children and teenagers.

Computer classes and, soon, English classes, along ith scholarships, new projects and thousands of visitors each year – all these things are part of “pampering the heart” for the children of the families who suffered the loss of their loved ones in the fatal accident.

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