I'm looking for survival information similar to what happened to the rugby team in Miracle in the Andes. If a plane crashed on a similar rural mountain range during the winter, what are the important skills to learn to enhance survivability and descend the mountain? Some questions I'm looking at specifically...

  1. How to reduce hypothermia -- Is it possible to build a fire in this type of climate? Anything differently you would do?
  2. If you are injured, is there anything medically you should do differently in this type of environment? I have a special interest in penetrating injuries and dislocations.
  3. Food/Water -- If its a desolate location, let's say you limited food but you do have hunting gear (maybe a rifle, maybe fishing net). Any way to track prey? Is there any type of edible plant in this environment?

I know its a broad net, so I'm open to looking at recommended resources or courses! Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    You are asking two questions really: how to survive, and how to get down the mountain. In the case you cite, the wreckage could not be seen from the air, but generally you should stay at the crash site, at least initially, to increase the chances of being found, and because the wreckage may provide shelter and supplies. Commented May 12, 2020 at 11:46
  • 1
    There are some interesting related previous questions. If injured and lost, what are your biggest priorities for survival? and Transition to “Starvation Mode” in Survival Situations. Commented May 12, 2020 at 11:56
  • Needs clarification.. Are you asking about crashing on a commercial flight where your reason for flying has nothing to do with hiking or exploring, and thus there is no reason for you to have any survival equipment with you? It sounds like you are, but please clarify.
    – ab2
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 1:15

2 Answers 2


As it is the questions you have are unanswerable - Is it on a permanent snow covered mountain, or seasonal? how deep snow? how high mountain (tree-line)? How isolated? Do you know where you are or not? Daylight hour length? What supplies/gear do you have? How bad are the injuries? Do you have a first aid kit (comprehensive or not)? Where in the world are you? - this very very significantly affects food possibilities.

Having said all that there are some general principles that you can adhere to for survival

Your first priority will be treating your injuries. You have a first-aid kit, you should have taken instruction courses and know how to use it! There aren't any special considerations for a the cold apart from limiting exposure of the main part of the body to reduce heat loss.

Puncture wounds are a problem because they introduce bacteria deep into tissues. Cleaning them out with boiled and cooled water might work. If you do have bacterial infection, you could get really sick - you will certainly have a fever and significant pain. Most first-aid kits don't contain antibiotics necessary for treating this sort of wound.

Dislocations - treatment usually consists of getting the joint back into place. After that, it depends on which joint dislocated. Shoulders, ankles and fingers/toes are pretty easy to treat with supportive bandages etc. Knees or elbows, you likely tore some ligaments at the same time and are not easy to treat in isolation (as well as incredibly painful)

After that it's the regular survival stuff.

  1. Water

Survival without water is almost impossible. The rule you normally hear for survival is the rule of 3's: 3 min without oxygen, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food. Of course this varies a lot (besides the oxygen one) depending on the conditions, cold means you need more food to keep warm, activity increases water demand etc.

You are surrounded by water in the frozen form. You can't easily get enough water from snow by melting it in your mouth - it saps a lot of heat and takes a long time. It is generally considered that the ratio between snow and rain is 13 - 1 unit of rain depth = 13 units of snow (on average). This means that for a mouthful of water you would need to melt 13 mouthfuls of snow. It's hard to do! For this you need a heat source - fire, sun (black bag in the sun?). How you will capture liquid water is dependent on what you have - a dark bag lined with plastic might melt snow in the sun. A pot over a fire of some sort will work, so long as you can suspend it over the fire and it won't melt.

  1. Shelter

In the cold you need a form of shelter or you will freeze to death unless you have many many layers of clothing. Wind is a huge loss of heat, it blows the heat away from, so you need to be able to get away from it. You don't have this - you need shelter and a way to keep yourself off the snow. With luck you can find a snow-bank and dig yourself in to make a temporary snow cave while you make a more permanent one from parts of the plane and the snow. Snow caves can get surprisingly warm - but not above freezing! You can probably use the seats to make yourself some sort of pad to keep you off the snow, but with limited clothing you will be very cold and likely to enter hypothermia pretty quickly.

  1. Fire

If you are above the tree-line you are out of luck with just having some wood to burn - you can only use the flammable parts of the plane, which won't last long. You need to isolate your fire from the snow - use rocks or parts of the plane if you can. Remember that metals conduct heat, so those will melt into the snow if you start a fire on them. You will need this fire to boil water to sterilize implements to treat your wounds and for drinking.

Below the tree-line you can use dry wood and twigs to start fires - assuming you have a method of lighting one in the first place. There's a whole Jack London story about this and the cold. Things worth considering!

  1. Food

In a permanent snow field there isn't much food at all (if any). Between permanent snow and the tree-line? Depending on where you are in the world there are a few animals that live here and quite a few plants. What is edible and what isn't is dependent on where you are in the world. Animals are not always edible, don't eat the guts unless cooked thoroughly.

  1. Getting out - assuming you know no-one is looking for you.

If someone is looking for you, stay by the obvious land-mark - your crashed plane, find as many ways to make it as obvious as possible - fire might work if you can light one and see a plane looking for you. Generally it is best to stay where you are when lost - move close to water if you have to.

How you get out depends on where you are - How steep is the terrain? How deep the snow? how well can you climb? Do you know where you are or not?

Survival in these cases usually means following the water-course down hill (not literally walking in the water). Trickles become streams, become rivers, then the sea. People live along river flats, and you can always follow the coast, and will eventually reach a settlement of some sort. There are times when following the water-course won't work such as swamps, but these generally don't occur high in the mountains. You might have to deviate for things like waterfalls, gorges, cliffs etc., but you can usually keep nearby or follow the valley system in general. Navigation from the sun rising and setting will help with general direction you are travelling too.


Note: This is an incomplete answer.

  1. To reduce hypothermia: carry spare dry thermal inner wear (merino or technical fabrics). Also consider a bivouac blanket / space blanket.
  2. To build a fire: you should have something you can start a fire with. You can always carry weatherproof matches and (hexamine) fuel tablets (but they stink and have many other problems).
  3. Injuries: the priority in emergency medicine is to ensure the victim survives till they can receive proper medical care. NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) organizes courses on wilderness medicine, they have partners in different countries. There are also courses/certifications for wilderness first aid responders (WAFA), etc. You can learn to fix dislocations in a short course, penetrating injuries are hard, and the goal is to minimize blood loss, till a professional can look at it.
  4. To learn to track prey: do a hunting course.
  5. To learn about edible plants - do a survival course. The material you will be taught will usually be specific to the geographic region you learn it in.

Most of the things you are asking about are highly specialized skills and typically take many years of committed effort and practice to acquire, if you want to attain a level of self-sufficiency.

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