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Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

February 21, 2011

In 1972, a flight carrying forty-five people crashed into the Andes mountains. Many of the passengers knew each other, including a rugby team along with their friends and family. 

Of the original forty-five, more than a quarter died in the initial crash, and then several more passed away due to exposure to the harsh conditions of the Andes. Sixteen survivors remained. Food was scarce: candy bars, sardines, wine, nougats, etc. were all rationed, but it was clear that these provisions would not last long. They also tried stripping the chairs for hay and eating leather off of luggage, but hay wasn’t found, and the health risks of eating treated leather outweighed the benefits. The mountainside was stripped of all vegetation, so nourishment wouldn’t be found there.  After ten days, search efforts ceased, and the survivors were running out of options. Remember, most of these people were close friends or at least acquainted with one another. They came to the conclusion that if they wanted any chance of surviving, it would mean eating the flesh of their fallen comrades. They took pieces of plastic from the windows, and having an ax on hand, sharpened the plastic pieces into rudimentary knives. Most of the flesh was eaten raw because they had very little in the means of combustible materials. Eventually, two of the passengers trekked roughly forty miles into the Chilean countryside and found help. Rescuers arrived thereafter and all sixteen remaining survived.

Is this an example of the Hobbes minded Viesturs’s philosophy in action? In this state of nature, is it an act of selfishness and loss of morality to feast on your loved ones in order to survive, or can one argue that since they agreed together to engage in cannibalistic acts, they were justified?

  1. Justin Kucera permalink
    February 21, 2011 5:24 PM

    I remember hearing about this quite a while ago. I feel like this is one of the best examples that I have seen of the view of state of nature according to Hobbes. It is apparent that they were scared, as anyone would be just like in the state of nature. Also, they wanted to get out (the people running miles to find help). And most importantly they did the unthinkable in order to survive. The only thing that I think Hobbe’s would not be able to predict about this situation based on his state of nature is the fact that they didn’t fight amongst themselves. I think that is the best critique of Hobbe’s state of nature – the fact that usually people work together in order to get out of the state of nature, not fight one another.

    • Emily Slaga permalink
      February 22, 2011 9:24 AM

      I agree with what Justin has to say. It’s a good example of Hobbes’ state of nature because the people were selfish and ate their loved ones. The ultimately looked out for themselves and I’m sure they never condoned cannibalism before, you can assume they went totally against their moral beliefs.
      But it is interesting that these people worked together so well (the part of the story opposing Hobbes’ state of nature). I doubt that that’s true. Perhaps some of the grim details of their survival such as fighting and arguing just wasn’t heard about. It wouldn’t surprise me if somebody tried to get extra rations of food for themselves or if there was intense fighting about the cannibalism. In Hobbes’ state of nature, competition is present, and I believe when it comes to survival, there had to be a lot of competition and arguing on that mountain. It’s hard not to get a little selfish when we’re fighting for our lives.

  2. ellerm permalink
    February 22, 2011 6:38 PM

    I feel like the idea of cannibalism provides a sort of detour past a “loss of morality.” Though our society does not condone cannibalism, those people are not hurting anyone else in the state of nature. So, I would argue that it is not an act of selfishness or loss of morality because the people are not hurting anyone’s survival by eating their dead loved ones. In fact, it seems that those who were alive worked together the entire time. However terrible it may seem, I just don’t feel like the group acted selfishly. They were able to preserve one another without costing anyone else their life. If they had not eaten their loved ones, they would have likely died.

  3. lapinsk12 permalink
    March 1, 2011 11:00 PM

    Wow, you certainly picked an interesting subject. In my opinion they were justified in partaking in cannibalism because the decision to do so was an absolute last resort in order to survive. They waited and rationed as much as they could but you gotta go what you gotta do in order to survive. When you’re in that situation you are going to have to make some very tough decisions: are you going to sit there and starve to death or are you going to do something about your hunger. I think when it comes down to it, the basic instinct of all living organisms, the will to survive, will kick in and your morals and ethics will be dumbed down in order to survive. You also have to ask yourself would your loved ones want you to die when they could save you, although probably not in the ideal way they would have imagined, but nonetheless I think they wouldn’t want you to die. This also raises another important point, discuss with your loved ones whether cannibalism of each other would be ok in order to survive to avoid any moral or ethical conundrums (this is a joke of course, the last sentence…).

    Brendan Lapinski

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