The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley
The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley offers an elaborate evaluation of what happens to an individual during a disaster, before the arrival of help from emergency personnel and the structure that can be imposed on the situation being experienced. Ripley makes a living as a high-ranking writer for the Time magazine covering homeland security and risk. In this modern masterpiece, she offers a handbook that would aid victims of disasters get out alive by understanding the how the human body reacts during these high-stress situations and the steps that should be followed survive such an ordeal. Ripley points out that during moments of disaster it is common for people to think irrationally even when danger is looming. Throughout the book, she is in search of clear patterns that make up human behavior that come into play during these occasions and sums the experience up by giving a three-stage process; denial, deliberation and the proverbial decisive moment. In this essay, I will investigate Ripley’s three stage process of survival and how her research can also be used to explain the case of the 16 survivors from the Miracle of the Andes incident after their FairchildFH-227D crashed.
The FairchildFH-227D crash of 1972 was a catastrophe that involved a Uruguayan Air Force chartered plane that crashed in the Andes. On board, were 45 people, mostly rugby players, their family and friends headed to Santiago, Chile for a match. After a brief stop at Mendoza, Argentina, the pilot decided that because of the foggy weather, they could not fly directly over the Andes. Instead, a decision was made to fly south, a direction that would see the plane fly parallel to the towering Andes Mountain range (Read 10). The pilots plan was to eventually emerge in Chile and turn north to descend into Santiago. During a maneuver over the cloud cover over the mountain, the crashed onto a mountain peak that was unnamed at the time and came down in an area that is in the Malargüe, an Argentine municipality. After the accident, the initial number of survivors was 27, but this number soon went down to 19 after an Andean avalanche swept over the shelter built on the wreckage. After two months in this far flung locality at an altitude of over 3,700 with no source of heat and little food, the last 16 survivors were rescued by and lived to tell their near-death experience.
Ripley’s extensive research explains that during a disaster, the human body goes through three stages; denial, deliberation and the proverbial decisive moment (Ripley) . Understanding human instincts and how we are likely to respond in a time of crisis is what will prevent our instincts from betraying us. Parallels can be drawn from her three stage process while investigating the story of the FairchildFH-227D crash of 1972. The denial stage began when the aircraft first clipped the mountain peak at an altitude of 4,200 meters. From interview transcripts, it is evident that the passengers were in a state of denial. Most of them could not bring themselves to believe that there was impending disaster and convinced themselves that it was simply a flight through rough turbulence. In reality, the impact had severed the right wing, and the resulting force let a hole at the fuselage’s rear. Even when the plane hit the ground, an insidious fear still filled the survivors who were now in a state of utter disbelief. A moment of deliberation is what followed next with the survivors coming to terms with the plane crash and its full extent. It is during this moment that they acknowledged that the tragedy had actually taken place and now weigh all the possible options they had that would ensure their survival.
The penultimate stage, decisive moment, came when they had to accept that they were in danger and had to plan what to do in order to survive. The Andes Mountain range is known for its cold and harsh weather. The survivors lacked any gear (such as crampons that would be suitable for their feet in the freezing snow. Most notably, they lacked mountaineering goggles that are used to protect the eyes to prevent snow blindness. One of the survivors, Adolfo “Fito” Strauch, was innovative enough to devise a pair of sunglasses by using the sun visors located in the pilot’s cabin. They were instrumental in shielding their eyes from the sun’s rays. Furthermore, the survivors had insufficient food; assorted snacks, wine bottles and chocolate bars. After dividing these foods among themselves, it was soon apparent that starvation would soon become a reality. The area did not have any animals that could be hunted for food or vegetation and they desperately needed to come up with a way to survive. The ever innovative Fito Strauch came up with a way of obtaining water from the snow by melting it over empty bottles. After a period of long deliberation they collectively decided to feed on the flesh of to cater for the high calorific needs and avoid starvation. They contend that this was the hardest decision they ever made.
In conclusion, Amanda Ripley provides an investigative piece studies the human psychology reaction to disasters. To her, survival boils down to a three stage process which can be use to survive any form of adversity. Unbeknown to them, 16 survivors of the 1972 FairchildFH-227D crash adhered to this process and lived to tell their story.