About the Book

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four officers and enlisted men and women stationed on what was then Dutch New Guinea boarded a transport plane named the Gremlin Special for a sightseeing trip over "Shangri-La," a beautiful and mysterious valley surrounded by steep, jagged mountain peaks deep within the island's uncharted jungle.

But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers survived – WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings, Lieutenant John McCollom, and Sergeant Kenneth Decker.

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to disease, parasites, and poisonous snakes in the wet jungle climate, the trio was caught between man-eating headhunters and the enemy Japanese. With nothing to sustain them but a handful of candy and their own fortitude, they endured a harrowing trek down the mountainside – straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man or woman.

Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. 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.


The Characters

Laura Besley

High-spirited sergeant in the Women's Army Corps from Shippenville, Pennsylvania. Besley was a passenger aboard the Gremlin Special and a close friend (and double-date partner) of WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings.

Benjamin "Doc" Bulatao

Sergeant in U.S. Army's largely Filipino-American 1st Reconnaissance Battalion (Special). The gentle, soft-spoken Bulatao was the lead medic in the volunteer rescue mission following the Gremlin Special crash.

Alexander Cann

Documentary filmmaker for the Netherlands Indies Government Information Service who parachuted into the valley to record the survivors, the rescuers, the tribesmen, and the rescue attempt. A dashing rogue, Cann was a well-born former Hollywood actor and failed jewel thief.

Kenneth Decker

Tech Sergeant from Kelso, Washington, who worked as a draftsman in the engineering department of the Far East Air Service Command. Decker was a passenger aboard the Gremlin Special who had recently – and unsuccessfully – sought a date from his fellow passenger, WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings.

Ray T. Elsmore

Colonel and commander of the 322nd Troop Carrier Wing of the U.S. Army Air Forces. A cowboy with a can-do sense of mission, Elsmore confirmed Major Myron Grimes' reported discovery of a large valley in central New Guinea and subsequently became the U.S. military's leading authority on the region. Elsmore directed the highly unconventional rescue operations following the Gremlin Special crash.

Wimayuk Wandik

Known to the Gremlin Special survivors as "Pete," a leader of the village of Uwambo. He was the first native to literally extend a hand of greeting to survivors Margaret Hastings, Kenneth Decker and John McCollom.

Margaret Hastings

Feisty, beautiful corporal in the Women's Army Corps from Owego, New York. Secretary to Colonel Peter Prossen, the pilot of the Gremlin Special. Hastings was a close friend of Sergeant Laura Besley, a fellow passenger aboard the plane.

Yali Logo

A legendary warrior among the natives, capable of calling hundreds or even thousands of tribesmen to battle. He was the leader of the Logo-Mabel clan and the chief plotter in a plan to murder the Gremlin Special survivors and their Army rescuers.

John and Robert McCollom

Easygoing twin brothers from Trenton, Missouri, both lieutenants in the maintenance section of the Far East Air Service Command. Known as "The Inseparables," both were passengers aboard the Gremlin Special, but only one survived.

George H. Nicholson Jr.

Studious, thoughtful major in the Army Air Forces from Medford, Massachusetts. Nicholson was co-pilot on the Gremlin Special, but he was alone at the controls when the plane hit the mountain.

Henry E. Palmer

Wisecracking lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Palmer suggested that gliders be used in the rescue effort, and later served as the pilot of the glider called the Fanless Faggot.

Peter J. Prossen

Colonel in the Army Air Forces from San Antonio, Texas, and pilot of the Gremlin Special. Chief of the maintenance section of the Far East Air Service Command in Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea. Arranged the flight over "Shangri-La" as a morale-boosting reward for the officers, WACs and enlisted men under him.

Camilo "Rammy" Ramirez

Affable, talkative corporal in the U.S. Army's 1st Reconnaissance Battalion (Special). A native of the Philippines who survived the Bataan Death March, Ramirez was a volunteer medic in the rescue mission following Gremlin Special crash.

C. Earl Walter Jr.

Captain in the U.S. Army's 1st Reconnaissance Battalion (Special). Hell-bent on being given a combat posting, Walter feared that his father's connections were keeping him out of the war. Volunteered to lead the rescue mission into Shangri-La with a squad of Filipino-American paratroopers.

Eleanor Hanna

Happy-go-lucky private in the Women's Army Corps from Montoursville, Pennsylvania. Known for singing wherever she went, Hanna was a passenger aboard the Gremlin Special.