A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II


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.


“A lost world, man-eating tribesmen, lush andimpenetrable jungles, stranded American fliers (one of them a dame withgreat gams, for heaven's sake), a startling rescue mission. . . . This is atrue story made in heaven for a writer as talented as Mitchell Zuckoff. Whew—what an utterly compelling and deeplysatisfying read!" —Simon Winchester, author of Atlantic


Award-winning former Boston Globe reporter Mitchell Zuckoffunleashes the exhilarating, untold story of an extraordinary World War IIrescue mission, where a plane crash in the South Pacific plunged a trio of U.S.military personnel into a land that time forgot. Fans of Hampton Sides’ Ghost Soldiers, Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor, and David Grann’s The Lost Cityof Z will be captivated by Zuckoff’s masterfullyrecounted, all-true story of danger, daring, determination, and discovery injungle-clad New Guinea during the final days of WWII.



Kirkus Reviews – Starred Review

A Kirkus Star is assigned to books of remarkable merit, as determined by the impartial editors of Kirkus Reviews.Former Boston Globe reporter Zuckoff (Journalism/Boston Univ.; Robert Altman: The Oral Biography, 2009, etc.) delivers a remarkable survival story. Editor Review (reviewed on January 15, 2011). On May 13, 1945, an American transport plane carrying 24 servicemen and women crashed into a mountain in the tropical jungles of Dutch New Guinea (now Papua), leaving three survivors. Learning about the event while researching another subject, the author recognized the ingredients of a terrific tale: a beautiful young WAC, a hidden valley reminiscent of the Shangri-La in James Hilton's Lost Horizon, primitive tribal people and a daring air rescue. In this well-crafted book, Zuckoff turns the long-forgotten episode into an unusually exciting narrative. Drawing on the young WAC survivor Margaret Hastings' diary as well as journals and interviews, the author hones in on life at the U.S. military base in Hollandia, on the northern coast of uncharted New Guinea; a soldier's chance discovery a year earlier of Baliem Valley, a verdant area about 150 miles into the interior, with its hundreds of native villages surrounded by gardens; and the doomed flight of officers and enlisted personnel out on a joy ride to view this much-talked-about land of Stone Age people from the air. Because of Zuckoff's successful re-creation of the grueling month-long experiences of the survivors—badly burned, with gangrenous wounds, often despairing that search planes wouldn't find them under the dense jungle canopy—and their wary encounters with farmer-warrior natives (who turned out to be friendly; they thought the white visitors were spirits), readers will devour the epilogue to learn what happened in ensuing decades to the story's principals. With candy for nutrition and lacking medicine, the survivors make their way to an open plain, where planes drop supplies and medical technicians. The dangerous rescue by glider planes has all the makings of a breathtaking movie scene. Zuckoff weaves in interesting digressions about reporters who covered the story, a filmmaker parachuted in to make a documentary and the rich boy/amateur anthropologist who visited the valley in the late '30s to collect specimens.Kirkus Verdict:Polished, fast-paced and immensely readable — Ready for the big screen.

Publisher's Weekly "Pick of the Week" - Starred Review

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II. Zuckoff (Ponzi's Scheme) skillfully narrates the story of a plane crash and rescue mission in an uncharted region of New Guinea near the end of WWII. Of the 24 American soldiers who flew from their base on a sightseeing tour to a remote valley, only three survived the disaster, including one WAC. As the three waited for help, they faced death from untreated injuries and warlike local tribesmen who had never seen white people before and believed them to be dangerous spirits. Even after a company of paratroopers arrived, the survivors still faced a dangerous escape from the valley via "glider snatch." Zuckoff transforms impressive research into a deft narrative that brings the saga of the survivors to life. His access to journal accounts, letters, photos, military records, and interviews with the eyewitnesses allows for an almost hour-by-hour account of the crash and rescue, along with vivid portraits of his main subjects. Zuckoff also delves into the Stone Age culture of the New Guinea tribesmen and the often humorous misapprehensions the Americans and natives have about each other. In our contemporary world of eco-tourism and rain-forest destruction, Zuckoff's book gives a window on a more romantic, and naïve, era. (May)

Library Journal - Starred Review

Mitchell Zuckoff presents an engaging story about the survival and ultimate rescue of three American service people who crashed in the dense jungles of New Guinea toward the end of World War II. While that is exciting enough in its own right, what makes Zuckoff's story an essential read is the interaction between these survivors and the indigenous tribe they encountered after crashing. Humorous and at times dangerous misunderstandings arose between the Americans and the indigenous people during the 46-day ordeal in the jungle. The tribe had never encountered white people before and assumed their "guests," including a young female WAC corporal, were spirits whose arrival fulfilled a prophecy of the end of the world. In a sense, this prophecy was true as after the rescue and the war, the Americans, Europeans, and Indonesians returned and changed the way of life that these tribes had followed for centuries.Library Journal Verdict:This excellent book will be enjoyed by anyone who loves true adventure stories of disaster and rescue such as Alfred Lansing's Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage.

Booklist Book Group Crystal Ball (January 2011)

Lure some male readers to the book group with Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff. As adrenaline-packed as Into Thin Air and as detailed as Ghost Soldiers, this little known episode of World War II history will astound readers. An American plane crashes on a remote tropical Pacific island. The survivors, all badly injured, begin the dangerous climb down the mountainside, hoping to avoid disease, parasites, snakes, and the enemy Japanese. They discover a "lost" tribe of primitive island natives who have never seen white people before. This is only the beginning of their harrowing escape off a jungle paradise. And don't think the female readers will be left out. Did I mention one of the survivors was a woman? A riveting true-life adventure tale coming in May.

Advance Praise for Lost in Shangri-La

Lost in Shangri-Lais a riveting work of narrative history and a thrilling journey to the beginning of time. Mitchell Zuckoff tells the story of three W.W. II plane crash survivors-one a beautiful woman-who plunged into a lost world of Stone Age cannibals in New Guinea. Zuckoff embarks on an amazing adventure of his own, climbing mountains and braving jungles, to resurrect witnesses and discover remnants of the downed plane. Along the way, he discovers not only the truth about the crash and its aftermath, but also deeper truths about how modern and prehistoric people view the world, each other, and themselves."

- James L. Swanson, New York Times bestselling author of Manhunt

"A lost world, man-eating tribesmen, lush and impenetrable jungles, stranded American fliers (one of them a dame with great gams, for heaven's sake), a startling rescue mission. And then, an unread diary and a single survivor living quietly half a century later in Oregon, still remembered by the jungle-men of New Guinea. This is a true story made in heaven for a writer as talented as Mitchell Zuckoff. Whew-what an utterly compelling and deeply satisfying read!"

- Simon Winchester, bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman, Krakatoa, The Map that Changed the World, and The Atlantic.

"A tale of grit and determination on the part of the survivors and their intrepid rescuers. This is exciting history told exactly as it should be, through the words and images of those who lived it."

- Cokie Roberts, Emmy-Award winning journalist and bestselling author.

"Mitchell Zuckoff has found one of the great untold yarns of World War II. In the bold tradition of The Lost City of Z and other well-crafted armchair adventures, LOST IN SHANGRI-LA takes us on a breathless descent through forbidding jungles into the heart of the Stone Age."

- Hampton Sides, bestselling author of Ghost Soldiers and Blood and Thunder