IMAGE: Sergio Catalan, plane crash survivors
Marcelo Hernandez  /  AP
Chilean Sergio Catalan, center, waves his hat to the crowd as he is welcomed by some of the Uruguayan rugby players who survived 72 days in the Andes after their plane crashed in 1972, at the airport in Montevideo on Friday.
updated 10/12/2007 9:45:40 PM ET 2007-10-13T01:45:40

The Chilean livestock herder who first spotted survivors of a 1972 Andean plane crash made famous by a best-selling book and Hollywood movie was reunited Friday with some of the men he helped rescue 35 years ago.

Sergio Catalan was welcomed at the Montevideo airport by crash survivors whose 72-day ordeal stranded in the snowcapped Andes was recounted in the book “Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors,” by Piers Paul Read, and made into a movie in 1993.

An Uruguayan air force plane carrying a private college rugby team crashed in a rugged mountain pass while en route from Montevideo to Santiago, Chile, in October 1972. Of the 45 people aboard, 16 survived more than two months on the freezing slopes by eating flesh from the bodies of other passengers killed in the crash, several later said.

Two months passed without rescue, prompting a few survivors to leave the barren crash site to seek help. Eleven days later, in the foothills of the Chilean Andes, two of them came across Catalan, who rode his horse to the nearest town to alert rescuers.

One of those men, Roberto Canessa, joined other survivors in welcoming Catalan at the airport Friday, marking the 35th anniversary of the doomed flight.

Catalan, now 82, lifted his sombrero and smiled before heading to a meeting with Uruguay’s vice president, Rodolfo Nin Nova, who thanked him for his role in the rescue. Catalan will be honored at a dinner with crash survivors on Friday night.

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