If you visit just one museum while you are in Uruguay, make it the Andes 1972 museum—which tells the true story of Uruguayan endurance, the subject of the films “Society of the Snow” and “Alive!”. Plan to spend at least two hours. There is so much to take in.
On Friday, October 13, 1972, a Uruguayan Fairchild 227 airplane carrying a rugby team of young men on board crashed in the Andes. This was the beginning of one of the most overwhelming stories of survival in human history.
Initially, 32 people survived the plane crash against one of the world’s highest mountain ranges. Many of the passengers were seriously injured. At almost 4000 metres above sea level, with neither appropriate clothing nor food, surrounded and trapped in the mountains, they were virtually doomed to perish from the extremely low temperatures. Their very limited provisions, consisting of a few sweets, some cans of food and a couple of bottles of alcoholic beverages, quickly ran out. For ten long days they waited to be rescued. Then they heard on the small pocket receiver that the search had been called off.
These are the first words that you encounter when you enter Museo Andes 1972 which is the first and only Uruguayan tribute to the survivors—all Uruguayan—, those that died and the Chilean cattle drover who rode for a day to get help.
Museo Andes is a private venture by Jörg Thomsen, a Uruguayan businessman. Jörg was sixteen when the crash happened. He didn’t know anyone involved at the time, though he does now and his motivation to tell the story is on many levels.
There has never been any official public recognition of the ordeal, or acknowledgement of the role of the drover. Though the crash happened on a Uruguayan air force plane, the government sent out a very limited search-and-rescue.
Personally Jörg’s godfather and his wife died in another plane crash in the 1970s and during his own youth he and his family were trapped on a plane which caught on fire.
The story of the Andes crash survivors is one of the great human survival stories of the Twentieth Century. Yet when he travelled abroad, Jörg was sick and tired of people’s only reference to Uruguay being the You-are-gay joke in the Simpsons.
Jörg felt that the miracle of the survival of his compatriots against so many terrible odds was a story that illustrated Uruguayan values of solidarity, teamwork and friendship. After seeing that the government looked unlikely to set anything up, and his grandchildren and others of their generation growing up without knowing what had happened, last year Jörg left his company in his family’s care to dedicate himself full-time to the set up the museum. “If I didn’t do it, then noone else would,” he concluded.
The museum—a heart-wrenching yet hopeful experience
Andes 1972 tells the story in immense detail. Fans will be astounded by the number of exhibits—practically all of which are original. There is an fascinating timeline that puts the crash in historical context—so you really feel what was happening in the world during the 72 days the survivors struggled to stay alive.
The exhibit is in English and Spanish (unlike most Uruguayan museums which limit themselves to Spanish—when will this change?) and some Portuguese (including the timeline).
In the reception a recap of the story is available in 22 languages (and counting. Feel free to contact the museum and offer a translation into your language!)
Reading the full text that summarises the story of the “tragedy and miracle” and is presented at the entrance of the museum alone brought a lump to my throat. Jörg kindly shared it with me and I reproduce it here in its entirety.
The Andes 1972 Museum is centrally located at in the Ciudad Vieja (Old City), half a block from the Plaza Matríz (Colonial Square).
Museo Andes 1972
Rincón 619, Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo
Tel. +598 2916 9461
Opening hours, Monday-Friday 10am to 5pm . Saturday 10am to 3pm.
For more information email: email@example.com
Entrance fee 300 pesos (apx 7 USD)
Exhibit in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Tours in English, Spanish, German and Brazilian-Portuguese.
[First published: Feb 28, 2014, last updated at the date above]