The last thing Nelson Bahamondes saw before he died was a landscape of snow, mist and the lush vegetation of his native Patagonia. Then, the 65-year-old father of three slipped into a deep sleep cradled in the arms of a man whose life he’d saved, never to wake again. Bahamondes’ death was a tragic moment in a remarkable story that has gripped Chile over the past week — a tale of sacrifice, stoicism, comradeship and, ultimately, of survival and hope.
A week ago, Patagonia Airlines pilot Bahamondes had guided his Cessna 208 onto the runway at Puerto Montt airport and taken off into a foreboding grey sky. His plane carried nine passengers bound for the remote airstrip of La Junta in the foothills of the Andes. As the Cessna banked inland from the Pacific, it ran into a storm so violent that it forced Bahamondes to make an emergency landing, skimming the treetops before ditching in the undergrowth. That all on board survived the hard landing is a tribute to his skills as a pilot. Bahamondes suffered the worst injuries, but still managed to clamber from the cockpit.