On the afternoon of May 13, 1945 a group of 24 officers and enlisted military personnel hopped on a military plane to see the popular Shangri-La, a picturesque valley hidden away in the mountains of New Guinea. The only way to see Shangri-La was by air, flying through a particularly tumultuous mountain pass. On this day, one man’s questionable decision, one co-pilots inexperience, and possible mechanical problems paired with the unpredictable mountain weather all lead to a tragic fate for the men and women aboard the plane dubbed the ‘Gremlin Special.’
After the crash, only three of the 24 passengers survived – one woman and two men. Armed with few supplies and an array of injuries – broken bones, burns, cuts, bruises, and gangrene, not to mention the grief of losing friends and acquaintances and in one survivors case a twin brother, the three started their hike down the valley into an open area they were able to spot. Living off of small tins of water and hard candy, they never gave up. Eventually they made it to the field where they were spotted by American pilots and the native peoples.
Soon after the survivors are spotted, supplies start coming in raising morale and a group of Filipino-American paratroopers volunteer to make a daring jump into the valley. Finally, with the attention of medics, things start to look up, but they still have a long way go to heal, hike back to the main base set up by the paratroopers, and get out of the valley – safely. Almost seven weeks after the crash, a daring attempt was made, and in a matter of days, the survivors, the volunteer paratroopers, and one man from Hollywood all made it out of Shangri-La.
If I was limited to one word to describe this book, it would be: phenomenal. It’s hard to believe that Lost in Shangri-La is a non-fiction book because the story is so amazing. However, this is a true story, and it is pretty epic. Lost in Shangri-La isn’t just about a plane crashing and what happened afterwards. It’s an extremely comprehensive telling of the history of New Guinea, what life was like for the native peoples and soldiers stationed there, the men and women who went down in the plane as well as the men and women who were willing to risk their lives to help the survivors, what was happening during WWII at the time, and the rescue that one has to be crazy to attempt.
The three survivors of the Gremlin Special are the ultimate heroes. They found within themselves the motivation they needed to go on, even when they were in so much pain they could hardly stand and at times they were actually crawling through the jungle. They were confronted by a native people with whom they couldn’t communicate very well and whom they were lead to believe were a cannibalistic and cruel group of prehistoric warriors. In fact, these people ended up friends. On and on these three fought, never giving up no matter what was thrown their way.
A story put together from interviews, journals written by those involved in the crash and rescue, old news articles, along with pictures from the time spent waiting to be rescued and the rescue itself, Lost in Shangri-La is a book you have to read, to experience for yourself. It’s the type of book that you don’t want to put down because you want to know how these individuals fared.
Bottom line, Lost in Shangri-La is beautifully written, the chapters move very quickly, and the story is absolutely captivating. I highly recommend this book, not only for lovers of history, but for anyone who is looking for inspiration, for a story of struggle and triumph.