Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II

by Mitchell Zuckoff

Hardcover, 2011

Call number

940.54 ZUC

Collection

Publication

Harper (2011), Edition: First Edition, 400 pages

Description

Award-winning former Boston Globe reporter Mitchell Zuckoff unleashes the exhilarating, untold story of an extraordinary World War II rescue mission, where a plane crash in the South Pacific plunged a trio of U.S. military personnel into the jungle-clad land of New Guinea.

Media reviews

Polished, fast-paced and immensely readable—ready for the big screen.
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Mitchell Zuckoff’s “Lost in Shangri-La” delivers a feast of failures — of planning, of technology, of communication — that are resolved in a truly incredible adventure. Truly incredible? A cliché, yes, but Zuckoff’s tale is something a drunk stitches together from forgotten B movies
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and daydreams while clutching the bar. Zuckoff is no fabulist, though, and in this brisk book he narrates the tense yet peaceful five weeks during 1945 that three plane crash survivors spent immersed “in a world that time didn’t forget. Time never knew it existed.” Even at the level of exposition, the book is breathless.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
Cannibals, penis gourds and WACs, oh my! One afternoon in May 1945, a group of military sight-seers, board a transport plane, called the Gremlin Special, for a leisurely fly-over of a beautiful valley nicknamed Shangri-La, located on the island of Dutch New Guinea. There were 24 on board, a mix of
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officers and enlisted.
Suddenly the plane crashes into this paradise, killing all but three. WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings, Lieutenant John McCollom, and Sergeant Kenneth Decker. Badly injured, they try to find help, hacking their way through the wet dense jungle, finally ending up in the midst of a primitive tribe of flesh-eating warriors.
Yes, this sounds like a bad B-movie from the 50s, but it is a true adventure tale, told in an exciting, tense narrative. The story also focuses on the rescue mission, as a large group of pilots and paratroopers, attempt to pull the survivors out, under risky and terrifying conditions. If you like history, laced with action and colorful characters or are looking to explore narrative nonfiction, look no further.
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LibraryThing member arielfl
I love a good adventure story. The gold standard by which I hold all other adventure stories to is Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. Unfortunately for this book I happened to be listening to that novel on CD at the same time and so Lost in Shagri-La paled in comparison. Lost in Shagri-La is the true
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story about 24 American women and men WWII service members who went on a site seeing plane expedition that crashed into the jungles of New Guinea. Only five members of the party survived more than a day, two of which were badly injured. While waiting for rescue the survivors encountered native people who were living the same way as they had for hundreds of years and who had never seen a white person up close. The rest of the story is about the interactions with the native people and the rescue mission that brought out the survivors. This a fairly interesting story but it did seem to have a little filler material. The pages describing the type of rescue plane used held little interest for me. The stand out part of the book was the survivors and their interaction with the natives. I especially loved Margaret, she was one tough cookie. The author seemed a little preoccupied with her sex life though. I am not sure what was up with the promiscuous portrayal, probably could have left that out. If you enjoyed this book check out the Lost City of Z another excellent adventure book in this vein.
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LibraryThing member bookchickdi
I don't read a lot of WWII history books, but when I heard that Lost in Shangri-La: The True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff featured a WAC from Owego, I became intrigued.

I grew up near Owego in central New York, and my dad
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has older sisters who served as WACs during the war. I always found that interesting, and so dived right into this incredible story.

On May 13, 1945, a group of 24 American servicemen and WACs went on a sightseeing mission in New Guinea. They wanted to see this valley that "time forgot", and hoped to see the rumored "race of giants" tribesmen that they had been told existed there.

When the plane crashed, only three survived- John McCollom, whose twin brother died in the crash, Kenneth Decker, who was badly burned and injured, and Margaret Hastings, who also was badly burned.

The three managed to make it to a tribal village, and instead of giants, found a village filled with people who lived in a long-ago time. They had stone tools, wore gourds and skirts made of sticks, and had never seen a white person before.

The book recounts the horrifying crash and the efforts of a group of paratroopers who parachuted in to try and rescue the survivors, and even more difficult, figure out how to get everyone out of a valley where no plane could land.

Zuckoff had lots of primary source material, including the journals kept by Hastings, who caused quite a stir of interest from the tribesmen, and Captain C. Earl Walter, the man in charge of the paratroopers. They told their amazing story of the day-to-day life in the valley, working and befriending the tribespeople, and planning a way to get out.

Unbelievably, a documentary filmaker also parachuted into the valley to document the effort to rescue the survivors. He is quite a character himself, and the fact that he was allowed to do this sounds like something out of the TV show MASH, yet it happened.

Zuckoff's story is filled with photos of the survivors, paratroopers and tribesmen. The writing is superb, and the tension is palpable on the page as the survivors meet the tribesmen and try to communicate with them.

There is also humor, as when the daily supply plane keeps dropping cases of Kotex for Hastings, but not one extra pair of panties that she had requested, a typical bureaucratic bungle.

As I was looking at a photo of the servicemen and the tribesmen all working together to push a glider into position, I was struck with a thought: I think that everyone in Congress and the White House should read this book.

How is it that two disparate groups of people who do not speak the same language and have little in common were able to come together to work towards a common goal, yet the people we have elected and paid to work for the American people to solve the major problems that face us all seem unwilling to work together?

I can't believe that this story hasn't been made into a movie yet; it is made for the cinema (or maybe an opera?). I enjoyed the epilogue, where Zukoff follows up on the lives we have gotten to know, and he uses extensive endnotes to document each chapter. Zuckoff's website has video and photos from the mission.

World War II history buffs will be thrilled with Lost In Shangri-La, as will readers who just enjoy a crackerjack true story, filled with interesting people in an amazing situation. It's better than any fictional thriller you could read.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
I give Mitchell Zuckoff credit for turning this brief historical event in the final days of WWII into a book-length creative non-fiction thriller. I kept waiting for an amazing story of survival and rescue, per the title, which is not really the case, but it didn't matter because the telling is fun
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enough. Other than the initial plane crash and search, I never had the impression anyone was in too much danger, the natives were friendly and supplies rained down from parachutes like Christmas. Yet, Zuckoff keeps it interesting throughout, in large part because the exotic contrast of a lost "stone age" civilization and WWII-era Americans coming into first contact is straight out of Weird Tales.

Zuckoff did more than archival research, he tracked down and interviewed the last survivors, American and native, thus ensuring the story was not only retold but recorded in detail for the first time, making it an important work of original research. I found it a bit too fawning in places, for the period and generation, in other words sentimental and romanticized, but it's effective and has an art to it that is appropriate given some of the participants are still living. If you liked Unbroken, this is a good chaser.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff is the true story of a how a sight-seeing jaunt for 24 U.S. Army servicemen and WAC’s turned into a horrific plane crash and a fight for survival in the jungles of New Guinea during World War II. New Guinea at this time was still a largely unknown area, and
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this particular flight was to see from the air a unknown valley that had been given the nickname, Shangri-La. Unfortunately the plane went down on a mountainside before they reached the valley.

As the survivors emerged from the wreckage, the book goes on to tell of how they managed to get themselves down from the crash site to a open area in order to signal to the planes that were searching for them. As there was no place for planes to land, supplies, and even a rescue party with medics were dropped into the jungle. The crash took place on May 13, 1945 and the party were finally evacuated from the jungle on June 28, 1945.

The author reconstructed this harrowing adventure in great detail to deliver an astonishing story of survival. The intricate rescue mission was fascinating to read about and Lost in Shangri-La once again reminds me that jungle survival is something I have no wish to experience other than as an armchair adventure. A very absorbing read.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
The most impressive thing about this book is the incredibly good job the author did in running down the factsof the event giving rise to the book. On May 13, 1945, a plane, on a mission not actually required by the war, crashed in a remote area of New Guinea. The survivors were in a most perilous
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situation and this book tells what they did and what was done for them. Some of the information about the New Guinea people did not arouse much interest in me but all the other parts of the excellently researched book I found of huge interest. The paperback edition of the book includes some reactions to the book after the hardback book was published, and one can empathize with the people who were excited about the book. The book ends very strong and and is extremely well-done.
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LibraryThing member Karlstar
A great 'human interest' story about a minor incident in World War 2, but a really enjoyable book to read. No battles, no shooting, but a good insight into another part of the war.
LibraryThing member publiusdb
In the closing months of World War II, twenty-four serviceman and WACs climbed aboard a military transport plane for a day of sightseeing over a recently discovered "hidden valley" deep in the interior of Dutch New Guinea. Surrounded by high, jungle covered mountains and far from civilization, the
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valley was home to natives undiscovered by western civilization, war-like tribesman rumored to be cannibals.

As the flight approached the valley--called "Shangri-la" after James Hilton's best-selling novel Lost Horizons--things went horribly wrong for the pleasure tour, and the plane crashed, killing all but three of the passengers. What followed was a tale of survival and heroism as the survivors trekked from the mountainside crash site, hidden beneath the jungle canopy, to find help.

Mitchell Zuckoff's tale about the survival and rescue of Margaret Hastings, John McCollom, and Kenneth Decker from the untracked New Guinea jungle is a fascinating adventure in one of the last unmapped places on the planet. At a time when the world was at war, aviators and soldiers made a daring plan to retrieve them.

Lost in Shangri-la is one of the faster pieces of non-fiction I read in 2012, but was worth the time. Instead of contemplating the weighty and heavy issues a lot of history dwells upon, Lost in Shangri-la focuses more on the human element, profiling the participants in the crash and the rescue. Separated by some seventy years, it's hard to imagine a time when anywhere on the planet is inaccessible, let alone unmapped. It would be decades before satellites made GPS-devices possible, and even to this day the hidden valley the tour group was intending to view is accessible only by plane.

In addition to interviews with survivors, newspaper clips, and US Army records of the event, Zuckoff draws on interviews with the natives who met the survivors after their crash, many for whom it was their first contact with anyone outside of their secluded valley.

If you're looking for a unique and fascinating narrative history, Lost in Shangri-la is an interesting and fascinating read, thoroughly researched and well written. It's relatively short and I thought it was an easy read.
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LibraryThing member stephaniechase
Readers who enjoyed the survival aspect of Lauren Hillenbrand's "Unbroken" will also find much to like in this survival story from WWII, focusing on three survivors of a plane crash deep in the mountains of New Guinea. "Lost in Shangri-La" looks at aviation in WWII, life in military outposts in the
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South Pacific, the amazing story of survival and rescue, and, perhaps most interestingly, the bonds the survivors and rescuers created with the native New Guineans that lived in the virtually unknown valley.
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LibraryThing member SalemAthenaeum
In an intriguing look at one of the many World War II plane crashes, Zuckoff tells the story of three passengers who survived the crash in the valley of Shangri-La, a place far different from the fictional description in James Hilton's "Lost Horizons." After leaving the crash site, the three
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survivors are forced to find their way through the jungle while avoiding head hunters and the enemy Japanese. Also told is the means of their rescue by brave paratroopers who risked their lives to get the victims out.
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LibraryThing member janismack
I liked this book. It was an easy read and I thought the comments and observations of the survivors of the crash were interesting. It just goes to show what humans can come up with when the need is there.
LibraryThing member martinhughharvey
My sort of book. Set in WWII, involves planes, in the mysterious New Guinea. Super documentary redolent with atmosphere. I wasn't sure all the references were accurate but it didn't matter. Strongly recommended.

BTW the photos worked well enough on the Kindle.
LibraryThing member casanders2015
One of the best non-fiction stories I have read in a while. Short but sweet read filled with details drawn from pictures, interviews, transcripts, documents that give the story legs to run on. Couldn't put it down!
LibraryThing member melaniehope
status: Read from June 04 to 08, 2011

What an amazing book! I loved every minute of this story. I usually do not read very much non-fiction. A lot of it seems too dry with an overload of information, facts and details. But Lost in Shangri-La was anything but dry. The entire book was fast paced,
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suspenseful and so well written. The truly amazing part was this was a true story of an actual crash and rescue during the war.

On May 13, 1945, during WWII, a sightseeing plane carrying 24 officers and enlisted men and women crashes in a land dubbed Shangri-La in a hidden valley in the heart of what was then named Dutch New Guinea. There are only 3 survivors, WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings, Lt. John McCollom and Sgt. Kenneth Decker. Injured and lost in the jungle, the 3 survivors trek through the mountainside only to come face to face with native tribesmen who have never seen a white man or woman before. Then add to the story a team of brave Filipino paratroopers who jump in to rescue and medically care for 2 of the survivors. To top it all off, there is no certain rescue plan in place due to the extreme remoteness of plane crash site. Later on a drunk film maker parachutes in to document the survivors and a previously untried rescue.

It is an absolutely unbelievable story. The author did his research. He includes information on the war, the people involved in the rescue, history on the early inhabitants of the island, etc. What also made this crash attract such special attention at the time was due to the fact that there were 9 females aboard. Each death of a woman in WWII drew attention, but in most cases the deaths came singly or in pairs. This crash took the lives of 8 women.

I can't believe that I had never heard of this rescue until I read the book. I applaud the author on a fantastic, thrill ride of a story.
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LibraryThing member AramisSciant
Very quick and very interesting read. Excellent research obvious in all the little details that make the characters really shine through the story. For some reason, I particularly liked Walter the Filipino rescue unit, especially the medics.
LibraryThing member TerriBooks
I found this mildly interesting and it got me to go on Google Earth to see where Dutch New Guinea (now Indonesia) actually is, and on to Wikipedia to read about the "Grand Valley." The characterizations of the main players was well done, and the background research Zuckoff did on the indigent
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culture was very interesting. Kind of amazing to think that there was a civilization of over 100,000 people not even suspected up until almost the beginning of WWII.

It's a true story so I guess you can't add stuff to make it more fun. But I would have loved to have seen the survivors interact more effectively with the natives of the valley.

Quick read, fast moving, I think a winner for the kind of book it is, but not something I'd go back and re-read.
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LibraryThing member UnderMyAppleTree
On May 13, 1945, twenty four service men and women boarded an American transport plane ironically nick-named the Gremlin Special to go on a day trip sightseeing over a beautiful, tropical valley known as Shangri-La. This was supposed to be a fun filled day, a treat for a group of service people
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stationed at an army base in Dutch New Guinea. But poor visibility and clouds obscured the mountains as they arrived over the valley. The flight ended in tragedy as the plane crashed into a mountain side leaving only three survivors, two who were badly injured and burned. This is the true story of their survival and eventual rescue and the 46 days they spent in the jungle.

A little known incident in military history, this is an engaging account of endurance and perseverance. With access to military records, letters, journals, photos and interview with eyewitnesses, the author was able to piece together the events of those weeks into an exciting narrative which reads like an adventure story. Suspense builds as the survivors make their way through the jungle and encounter natives that may or may not be friendly while at the same time the Army is planning a dangerous rescue mission to get them safely back home.

I listed to the audiobook which was narrated by the author in a documentary-like style. While it was not presented in dramatic fashion, I found his reading pleasant and easy to listen to. This is a fascinating, well-researched true story that will capture your attention and keep you listening, or reading if you choose the book. The only downside to the audio vs the book is that you don’t get to see the photos, which in a real life story such as this one can enhance the understanding for the reader.
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LibraryThing member Thanny
1945 a us military plane crashes in Dutch new guinea. There were three survivors. Two were badly burned , they hike to a clearing and are spotted by a search plane but the difficulty is how to get them out because terrain is so difficult.they parachute in medical help and supplies and eventually
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use a glider to get everybody out.
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LibraryThing member linsleo
This is a captivating true story account of a plane crash that took place during WWII in the native jungles of New Guinea. Heroic measures were taken to rescue the three remaining survivors from a flight that carried 24 military personnel on May 13, 1945. What started out as a sightseeing adventure
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to a valley one of their co-horts had named Shangri-La, ended in diaster for those that signed on for this R&R tour. Zuckoff has provided a wonderful narrative of this piece of history that was perhaps over-shadowed by the war itself.
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LibraryThing member creighley
The story is exciting BUT very short! 30% of the book is notation, I guess a requirement in the world of nonfiction. aThis fast-paced read is an account of a paratroop's rescue of three plane crash survivors into the heart of the New Guinea jungle just before the end of WWII. What awaited them was
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unbroked territory into a primitive society.
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LibraryThing member UnderMyAppleTree
On May 13, 1945, twenty four service men and women boarded an American transport plane ironically nick-named the Gremlin Special to go on a day trip sightseeing over a beautiful, tropical valley known as Shangri-La. This was supposed to be a fun filled day, a treat for a group of service people
Show More
stationed at an army base in Dutch New Guinea. But poor visibility and clouds obscured the mountains as they arrived over the valley. The flight ended in tragedy as the plane crashed into a mountain side leaving only three survivors, two who were badly injured and burned. This is the true story of their survival and eventual rescue and the 46 days they spent in the jungle.

A little known incident in military history, this is an engaging account of endurance and perseverance. With access to military records, letters, journals, photos and interview with eyewitnesses, the author was able to piece together the events of those weeks into an exciting narrative which reads like an adventure story. Suspense builds as the survivors make their way through the jungle and encounter natives that may or may not be friendly while at the same time the Army is planning a dangerous rescue mission to get them safely back home.

I listed to the audiobook which was narrated by the author in a documentary-like style. While it was not presented in dramatic fashion, I found his reading pleasant and easy to listen to. This is a fascinating, well-researched true story that will capture your attention and keep you listening, or reading if you choose the book. The only downside to the audio vs the book is that you don’t get to see the photos, which in a real life story such as this one can enhance the understanding for the reader.
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LibraryThing member seoulful
It seems that the final stories of WWII involving interviews with living witnesses are now being written. Lost in Shangri-La is a case in point with the incredible story of a plane downed in the jungles of New Guinea and the rescue of its three survfivors. The author was able to find quite a few
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people who were either involved directly or indirectly with the plane and the crash, members of the very isolated New Guinea tribe who were of help to the survivors, the rescue team parachuted into the hidden valley, a documentary photographer, and members of the tow plane team who finally brought the survivors and the rescue team out of the inaccesible area. The author found a very compelling story and spent considerable time and effort in tracking down these witnesses, hearing their stories, looking at their pictures and then traveling to the actual site of the wreck. Another fine story of heroism, ingenuity, and the lengths to which our military went to effect the rescue of its own.
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LibraryThing member marshapetry
Enjoyable book but I get a little tired of all these titles of the "greatest" or "most incredible" rescue/escape ... whatever. It was a good story resulting from an unfortunately tragic event but it was not the most incredible rescue mission of WWII. The author (who also narrated) was easy to
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listen to. Other than the exaggeration of "most incredible" I found it a little boring going over and over "Walters" life - yah he was an important guy but less fawning over him and more info about everyone involved would have made the story more enjoyable. I don't want to be too harsh because it was a good story and kept me (mostly) interested.
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LibraryThing member CasaBooks
Another one of those true stories that are incredibly intense and interesting, that you may never have heard about.
I liked it!
It's a recommend.
Read in 2011.
LibraryThing member mldavis2
The book is an easy read of a remarkable rescue of three survivors of an Army plane crash in unmapped Borneo during WWII. It is exhaustively footnoted and an excellent story, told by an experienced writer. It is a tribute to the survivors, their comrades, and the people of inner Borneo who had no
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idea there was a world beyond their valley.
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Awards

Salon Book Award (Nonfiction — 2011)
PEN New England Award (Winner — Nonfiction — 2012)
Massachusetts Book Award (Must-Read (Longlist) — Nonfiction — 2012)

Pages

400

ISBN

0061988340 / 9780061988349
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