1972 Andes Plane Crash Survivor Reflects on Group’s Decision to Eat Bodies of Friends Who Died

“I thought if I would die, I would be proud that my body would be used for someone else,” Dr. Roberto Canessa said in a new interview

<p>PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP via Getty</p> Dr. Roberto Canessa


Dr. Roberto Canessa

A survivor of the 1972 Andes Mountain plane crash said the upcoming Netflix film Society of the Snow brought him back to the horrific ordeal.

“I was immersed in that place again,” Dr. Roberto Canessa told Today in an interview published on Thursday. “I was back [in] the fuselage.”

At the time, Canessa was a 19-year-old medical student when the plane that he and his Uruguayan rugby teammates were on crashed as they were heading for a match.

Sixteen of the 45 passengers on that doomed aircraft survived, but they had no food and were surrounded by snow. As he detailed in his 2016 book, I Had to Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired My Calling to Save Lives, Canessa and the other survivors resorted to eating the victims who had died to survive.

During his interview with Today, Canessa was asked about the moment the group decided they were "going to have to eat" their "loved ones."

Related: Austin Hatch—Who Survived 2 Plane Crashes That Killed His Family—Becomes a Dad: 'Grateful' (Exclusive)

“I thought if I would die, I would be proud that my body would be used for someone else,” Canessa told Today of the fateful decision.

Canessa wrote in his book that the survivors cut flesh from the bodies “amid much torment and soul-searching" as their hopes of being rescued diminished. "We laid the 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."

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Canessa and another teammate emerged out of the mountains for help and reached civilization about a week later. “We got in touch with a shepherd," he told PEOPLE in 2016. “He was generous enough to go and search for help for us, [even though] he didn’t know us and no one believed that we were alive. And in this way, a very humble person saved the life of my friends.”

The survivors were rescued 72 days after the crash. “It’s not how you survive but why you survive,” Canessa told PEOPLE while reflecting on how he overcame the trauma. “I remembered very vividly my mother and I went to [visit the mother of] a friend who had died and she was devastated. And my mother told me, ‘If one of my children died, I couldn’t make it through life, I would die of sadness.’ So I had to go back and tell my mother, ‘Don’t cry anymore, I’m alive.’ So I think that was the driving force for me.”

Related: Son Who Survived Plane Crash That Killed His Parents Opens His Eyes in Hospital: 'Holding Steady'

The crash was famously dramatized in the 1993 movie Alive, starring Ethan Hawke. According to Today, the latest retelling of the story was shot on the actual crash site, putting the cast and crew in similar conditions as the survivors.

Canessa is now a pediatric cardiologist and has taken part in annual reunions with the other survivors and their families. In the years since the crash, he has drawn lessons from the ordeal. “You shouldn’t wait for your plane to fall to enjoy and be grateful for life," he previously told PEOPLE.

Society of the Snow will premiere in theaters next month and will begin streaming on Netflix Jan. 4.

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