One of the greatest survivor stories in aviation history.

Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 was a chartered flight carrying 45 people, including a rugby union team, their friends, family and associates. The plane crashed in the Andes on October 13, 1972, in an incident known as “the Andes flight disaster” or “the Miracle in the Andes.” More than a quarter of the passengers died in the crash and several others quickly succumbed to cold and injury.

Two months after the crash, two of the survivors, Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa, trekked from the glacier 3,650 metres above sea level across the mountains for days to find help. No trails, no maps, no GPS. Just determination. Because of their efforts, 14 other survivors were airlifted to safety 72 days after the crash. But this story of bravery and survival was quickly replaced by sensational reports of how the group managed to survive – cannibalism.

There is much more to the story, told in a new chamber opera by Vancouver composer Lloyd Burritt. Miracle Flight 571 is a two act opera, the libretto adapted from the memoir Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home written by Nando Parrado with Vince Rause. Parrado’s story is one of friendship and perseverance overcoming tragedy. In the book he says, “I would live from moment to moment and from breath to breath, until I had used up all the life I had…each step I took was a step stolen back from death.”

Act one follows the horrific events that occur in the plane’s remaining piece of fuselage. Act two depicts the death-defying trials of Nando’s and Roberto’s long trek through the Andes home. The music is rich and full of harmony, dissonance and rhythmic drive capturing Nando’s and Roberto’s determination to survive the unforgiving harshness of their surroundings. Lloyd’s piece focuses on the heroics displayed by Parrado (now a motivational speaker) as well as Canessa. Parrado’s mother and younger sister, both of whom died as a result of the crash, are also principal characters. The work treats the cannibalism as a mass, in one of the opera’s shortest scenes.

Experience the true story of Miracle Flight 571 on Wednesday, May 18 at 7:30pm at Christ’s Church Cathedral (252 James Street North). The 2016 What Next Festival returns May 12 to 27. All What Next Festival events are admission by donation (pay what you can) at the door. Click here for full festival details.

We gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

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