On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over "Shangri-La," a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea.Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton's bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals.Read more...
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Douglas R. Hofstadter
On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over "Shangri-La," a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea.Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton's bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals.
But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers pulled through. Margaret Hastings, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend's shoes. John McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the plane, masked his grief with stoicism. Kenneth Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a gaping head wound.
Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to the hidden dangers of the jungle, the trio faced certain death unless they left the crash site. Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside--a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man--or woman.
Drawn from interviews, declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor's diary, a rescuer's journal, and original film footage, Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the determined trio--dehydrated, sick, and in pain--traversed the dense jungle to find help; how a brave band of paratroopers risked their own lives to save the survivors; and how a cowboy colonel attempted a previously untested rescue mission to get them out.
By trekking into the New Guinea jungle, visiting remote villages, and rediscovering the crash site, Zuckoff also captures the contemporary natives' remembrances of the long-ago day when strange creatures fell from the sky. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-03-14
- Reviewer: Staff
Zuckoff (Ponzi's Scheme) skillfully narrates the story of a plane crash and rescue mission in an uncharted region of New Guinea near the end of WWII. Of the 24 American soldiers who flew from their base on a sightseeing tour to a remote valley, only three survived the disaster, including one WAC. As the three waited for help, they faced death from untreated injuries and warlike local tribesmen who had never seen white people before and believed them to be dangerous spirits. Even after a company of paratroopers arrived, the survivors still faced a dangerous escape from the valley via "glider snatch." Zuckoff transforms impressive research into a deft narrative that brings the saga of the survivors to life. His access to journal accounts, letters, photos, military records, and interviews with the eyewitnesses allows for an almost hour-by-hour account of the crash and rescue, along with vivid portraits of his main subjects. Zuckoff also delves into the Stone Age culture of the New Guinea tribesmen and the often humorous misapprehensions the Americans and natives have about each other. In our contemporary world of eco-tourism and rain-forest destruction, Zuckoff's book gives a window on a more romantic, and naïve, era. (May)
Plane crash in paradise
It started as a Sunday afternoon lark and developed into one of the strangest survival stories of WWII. On May 13, 1945, a group of American soldiers—among them several members of the Women’s Army Corps—boarded a twin-engine C-47 in Hollandia, New Guinea, intending to do a brief flyover of a remote valley located high in the island’s central mountains. With luck, they’d be back in time for dinner.
A year earlier, an American pilot had spotted the lush valley and the tribes that inhabited it. The natives were so visibly excited when his plane swept in low above them that he concluded they had never seen an aircraft before. He also surmised that they might be headhunters or cannibals. News of his discovery spread quickly, and soon others were lining up to take the tour. To some, the valley’s beauty and inaccessibility brought to mind the mountain-fringed paradise James Hilton described in his 1933 novel Lost Horizon. Hilton called his valley “Shangri-La.”
Less than an hour into the flight, the pilot miscalculated the C-47’s altitude and flew it into the side of a mountain. Three of the 24 on board survived: Lieutenant John McCollom, Tech Sergeant Kenneth Decker and Corporal Margaret Hastings. Drawing on a wealth of documents and personal recollections, author Mitchell Zuckoff has reconstructed an almost hour-by-hour narrative of how the survivors, two of whom are seriously wounded, descend the mountain into the mythical valley, deal with the suspicious but generally friendly natives and eventually aid in their own perilous escape from Shangri-La.
A lot of readers are going to fall in love with Hastings. Thirty years old at the time of the crash, she is smart, flirtatious, fearless and gorgeous, a thoroughly modern woman even by today’s standards. It is a joy witnessing how adroitly she holds her own in situations normally controlled by men. Zuckoff’s impressive research includes dozens of photographs of the survivors and those involved in their rescue. He even makes a pilgrimage to the valley—now a much-violated Eden—to interview tribespeople who were children when the strange trio first hobbled into their midst. Lost in Shangri-La is a movie waiting to be made.