Out of Silence: LeadershipMy last two blogs focused on leadership, and two beloved leaders who have passed, much too soon, from this life. I have spent this week with another amazing leader, very much still with us: Eduardo Strauch, a survivor of the 1972 plane crash in the Andes, of “Alive” fame.
You may know the incredible story, dubbed “The Miracle of the Andes.” On October 13, 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed at 11,710 ft in the inhospitable Andes, while bringing 19 young members of a rugby team, and their families and friends, to neighboring Chile. Thus began perhaps one of the greatest survival stories known. Amazingly, 33 of the 45 on board survived the initial crash, some with injuries that would later claim their lives. And 72 days later, 14 were rescued after two more of the survivors walked out of the Andes for 10 days to find help.It was a miracle anyone survived. Due to pilot error, the plane descended too early in dense cloud cover, and struck a mountaintop. The right wing snapped off, flipped and severed the tail, then the left wing sheared off. What remained of the fuselage tobogganed down a steep slope and smashed into a mound on a glacier, traveling top speed. Stunned, many in agony from wounds and shock, wearing only street clothes, the survivors sprang into action, displaying heroic teamwork. What happens to us personally, when we are hit with an unexpected tragedy, say, like giving birth to a beautiful child, only to learn he has a life-long, life-threatening bleeding disorder? We can collapse and give up; we can grieve endlessly; we can become dependent on others for help; or we can take action to improve our lives and those of our loved ones. The Andes boys took immediate action, even though many of them were wounded. They helped one another, they organized whatever they had, they started planning. They survived. I journeyed this past week to the crash site, high in the Andes, accessible only by hiking or horseback, to pay my profound respect to those who perished. They are buried in a mass grave on a ridge near the crash site. There is also a makeshift memorial, with an iron cross, upon which people leave personal mementos. This story has touched millions of lives throughout the last 50 years, and only a few get to come here, to the “Valley of Tears,” to see the place where so much agony, sorrow, terror, solitude, struggle and leadership took place.