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

Mitchell Zuckoff
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 18 2011

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.


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Review

“A truly incredible adventure.” (New York Times Book Review)

“[A] gripplingly cinematic account. . . . A remarkable cast of characters. . . . A.” (Entertainment Weekly)

“This is an absorbing adventure right out of the Saturday-morning serials. . . . Lost in Shangri-La deserves a spot on the shelf of Greatest Generation nonfiction. It puts the reader smack into the jungle. ” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“Zuckoff transforms impressive research into a deft narrative that brings the saga of the survivors to life.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Zuckoff delivers a remarkable survival story. . . . In this well-crafted book, Zuckoff turns the long-forgotten episode into an unusually exciting narrative. . . . Polished, fast-paced and immensely readable—ready for the big screen.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“[An] engaging story. . . . This excellent book will be enjoyed by anyone who loves true adventure stories.” (Library Journal (starred review))

“A riveting tale in the hands of a good storyteller. . . . LOST IN SHANGRI-LA is the most thrilling book, fiction or nonfiction, that I have read since I can’t remember when.” (Seattle Times)

“Mitchell Zuckoff has uncovered, and vividly reconstructed, such an astonishing tale. . . . Zuckoff skillfully builds narrative tension and deft character portraits. . . . . He has pulled off a remarkable feat — and held the reader firmly in the grip.” (David Grann, Washington Post) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

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.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars True WWII Survival Story May 2 2011
By Nicola Mansfield HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Reason for Reading: I love true war stories but I also love true survival stories, so this doubly appealed to me.

A sight-seeing plane carrying 24 enlisted passengers across the jungle of modern day New Guinea (who were stationed nearby) crashed and burned leaving a total of three survivors in a remote valley inhabited by tribes who mostly had not seen white men before and still lived in the stone age. This books gives the complete story of these people, enlisted and native. Prior to the fateful plane trip we meet the individuals who will be on board and learn their story, how and why they came to be aboard and some who just barely missed being passengers. We learn of life at the base of Hollandia where they were stationed, paratroopers on standby, enlisted soldiers waiting for deployment to somewhere else (where the action is) and a group of WACS fulfilling their enlisted duties.

We go through terrifying details of how the crash was probably caused though no blame has ever been laid by officials and the gory aftermath of the scene. Of the three survivors, only one is unharmed, the other two have serious burns and other injuries and thus starts their survival story where they eventually meet up with the natives of the land. Mostly a war-like people, but little do the survivors know that they are fulfilling a legend of the natives.

The main focus of the book though, is in the rescue of these people, as others are sent down to tend to their medical needs and set up a base of operations. The valley is surrounded by mountains too high and cross winds too dangerous. It is too narrow for an airstrip landing. The outside terrain is rough, dangerous, inhabited by known cannibalistic tribes and the island is also inhabited by hidden Japanese units.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Respect Paid May 15 2011
By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
From the time I read the book's jacket through to its conclusion, I kept thinking about the number of still untold stories from all sides of World War Two. The author deserves kudos for researching this rescue of three survivors of a horrific plane crash in the jungles of New Guinea. Comparisons to James Hilton's Lost Horizon adds some interesting flavor but the book's charm is in the respect paid to the bravery of the survivors and rescuers, the environment and indigenous peoples, and the loss of twenty-one lives. The stoicism shown by Margaret Hastings, John McCollom, and Kenneth Decker is amazing. It is no surprise that at the time they were made celebrities by the military and media. It is good that their story has been rekindled and the supporting characters given prominence (Alexander Caan, a rogue, deserves his own biography). One complaint is the marketing of the book does not match its content especially the depiction of local tribes - it does not honor the spirit of actual events.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
"He delivers and rescues,
And He works signs and wonders
In heaven and on earth," -- Daniel 6:27 (NKJV)

My dad loved to tell me stories about flying on sightseeing trips all over northern Europe in U.S. Air Corps bombers after Germany surrendered in World War II. His eyes would light up as he described what it was like to sit in the different seats and to imagine what it would have been like during a bombing mission. His stories brought the war to life the terror of war for me in a way that movies and books don't achieve.

I was impressed, then, to find that Mitchell Zuckoff used the same storytelling style that my dad did to tell the story of this sightseeing flight over New Guinea that went oh so wrong. He starts by taking the time to introduce the people with care in a way that makes them into individuals you feel you know and understand. Next, he gets inside the psychology of a situation to explain what kind of thoughts might have been or had been going on in each person's mind. Finally, he does research in the present to tear away the cobwebs of misapprehensions and misunderstandings so that the reader can also see the situation in objective, rather than subjective, ways. I especially appreciated that Mr. Zuckoff did not duck the responsibility to make observations about what was done correctly . . . and what was not . . . by the people he writes about.

If that weren't enough, Mr. Zuckoff takes the story one step further and provides true suspense about what will happen to those involved. I found that he did it so well that I found myself trying to "solve" the mystery of what was coming next . . . as though I were reading a mystery novel.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Survival in the Stone Age May 10 2011
By P. Halliday TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
If you like survival stories, Lost in Shangri-La is a good one. I read this book to learn about the people on Dutch New Guinea, the island where the plane crashed since I have only heard about them from two other sources, both fundamentalist Christian. I wanted to hear a description from a non-Christian point of view. I was not disappointed.

If you have read Don Richarson's Peace Child and Lords of the Earth, or Bill Gothard organization's Pineapple Story, then you have heard of these stone age natives before. If you recall the difficulty of translating the holy scriptures into a language that had no concept of peace or sacrificial love; if you recall the culture that had no concept of how to use the wheel because the terrain is so rugged a wheeled vehicle cannot be used, you will appreciate this account of trying to rescue three persons, two of whom were seriously injured.

Even as a very young reader of Peace Child, I thought how wonderful it could be if the Bible I knew were translated into a form that would make sense to us today in North America. The Shack is the nearest thing to my old dream. If you have read The Shack, you have profitted from the translation of the Bible into a language that had no equivalents for Christian ideas. The author of The Shack is a child of one of the translators of this stone age language in the valley of Shangri-La.

Because the residents of the valley thought the three white survivors were gods, the three remained alive. Their rescuers were also white and were also thought to be gods. There was no way out of the valley but on foot, so the white people had to stay for quite a long time until the injured survivors could travel.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting reading
I got this book because it was free, but what a pleasure to read. it has the flow of the story using helpful historical information.
Published 14 days ago by pinky
1.0 out of 5 stars very disappointed
did not care for this book. it seems they used silly mundane material just to fill pages, such as the background of reporters covering the crash for example. Read more
Published 1 month ago by hush
4.0 out of 5 stars In May 1945, an innocent sightseeing flight containing 24 ...
In May 1945, an innocent sightseeing flight containing 24 servicemen and women crashed in an area of jungle called, euphemistically, Shangri-La. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Hilgenbourg
4.0 out of 5 stars So Good I Bought Two Copies
This story is compelling. It is not guns and bullets nor butter and good feelings. It is about efforts to stay alive in a formidable jungle. Read more
Published 12 months ago by VE4KZ
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting true life adventure
I found that I couldn't put this book down. I't gives a glimpse into a past that we will never see again. So very interesting seeing two separate civilizations meeting. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Hugh Murray
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading
A true story of survival. This book was excellent reading from several perspectives including war, geography, and exploration but above all the survival instinct of people.
Published 14 months ago by EX RN
4.0 out of 5 stars Adventure of a lifetime
An honest forth rite historical review of brave people's lives and the unintentional impact on a contented but warlike tribe. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Douglas Gillespie
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
Loved the history and their story of survival amongst the natives of the island. Amazing that there were survivors and then what they had to go through to get off the island.
Published 20 months ago by jj
5.0 out of 5 stars Most interesting read in a long time!
Absolutely fascinating account of a strange event of WW2. You can actually google film footage described in this book. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Rod
4.0 out of 5 stars Really great story....especially knowing it's true!!
Loved this book. Shared it with my husband and my mom and dad and my friend's mom. It's even more
special knowing that it is a true story!
Published 20 months ago by Judy's Library
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