Our expedition to reach a remote plane-crash site in the central Andes is not going well. Almost as badly as the last fateful flight of the British South American Airways aircraft in 1947. Domestic flight was a risky business in the post-war years. The BSAA staff were a cavalier ensemble of ex-bomber command airmen. Flying from Buenos Aires to Santiago with them was like playing Russian roulette against 6000m mountains, with the aircraft taking the place of the bullet. On August 2nd, a prophetically named plane “Star Dust” dissipated somewhere over the Andes. BSAA’s luck had finally run out.
Since Jimmy Hyland, Joe Davies and I have arrived in the Mendoza province, luck has not been on our side either. The Argentinean military greeted us with an eleventh hour denial of our long standing request to access the Tupungato valley and crash site.
The original plan had been to drive west from Tupungato town to the army station nestled in the Malbec-wine-growing foothills of Mendoza province. We’d then load ice tools and food onto mules for a two day approach over a 4600m pass, establishing base camp a further day’s hike from the Star Dust. Next we’d launch a three-day skirmish to the crash site.
After comparing historical satellite images, we were reasonably convinced that new plane parts would now be emerging from the ice. We would be assessing the extent of Tupungato’s glacial retreat due to climate change. Finally, we’d climb the north ridge of Tupungato; making progressively higher camps on the Chilean-Argentinean border. At the summit, and with our model plane assembled, we’d look west towards Santiago paying homage to the 11 passengers that never made it.