132. Lost in Shangri-La (Mitchell Zuckoff)

Sunday, March 04, 2012
Lost in Shangri-La is one of those amazing World War II stories most people these days have probably never heard of.  In early May of 1945, the war in Europe is winding down but the war in the Pacific is still going.  A pilot stationed in Hollandia on the island of New Guinea discovers a hidden valley nestled amongst jungle covered mountains and filled with natives untouched by the outside world; a real Shangri-La.  Soon the base begins running sight-seeing tours for military personnel over the valley and on May 13, a group of 24 sets out for a low level flight over the valley and its native villages.  Unfortunately, the plane crashes in the dense jungle and the pleasure trip turns into a battle for survival as three survivors drag themselves from the wreckage, including a member of the Women's Army Corps

From Good Reads.com
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. 

The press and military focused on the WAC member, Margaret Hastings, and the riveting story of a white woman stranded amongst the primitive (possibly cannibalistic) natives of New Guinea.  It certainly helped keep the public interested but the reports practically dismissed the danger to life and limb the Filipino paratroopers had to face in order to rescue her and the other survivors.
Survival in the South Pacific
While I found the story exciting and had trouble putting it down, there was always a nagging thought in the back of my head:  this wasn't a military reconnaisance or bombing mission gone awry.  It was a pleasure trip, a sight seeing tour.  The amount of money, resources, and time involved in the rescue operation (not to mention the danger to the rescuers lives) must have been enormous (especially with daily supply flights/drops).  The closest comparison to this would be if the US Navy sent an aircraft carrier to search for the USS Minnow after their three hour tour got unexpectedly extended. Ok, not the best comparison but you get the idea.

Lost in Shangri-La is a great rescue story and the extraction plan will leave you shaking your head at how it possibly worked.  Mitchell Zuckoff easily transports readers to the jungles of New Guinea and drops you alongside the survivors to share in their unlikely adventure.  Looking for something to take your mind off the cold wintery weather outside (unless you're in Alberta where's in downright springlike!) or planning your summer beach reading?  Make sure to add this to your list of must reads.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Stories of survival against the elements are always fascinating. I remember being mesmerized by Les Stroud's book of similar tales. But your assessment of the cost of the rescue missions sure does put a modern spin on things.

I will have to give this a read!

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