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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.

Book Reviews

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
Average rating
4.4 / 5
Good Read
February 13th, 2015
The book was an excellent read. It was informative and left one with a I believe a true understanding of both the survivors and the people of the valley. It was respectful of the people. Enjoyed this true life account.
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1 review
Lost in Shangri-la
July 24th, 2014
Great book. Great Story. The rich details of the people involved, locations, pictures and testimonials, gives life to a breath taking narrative of an episode unknown to the current generation and outside the US.
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1 review
Lost in Shangri-La
January 23rd, 2014
Remarkable tale, remarkably researched and wonderfully written. The book was hard to put down. I'm sure I'll pick it up in hardcopy and read it again.
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1 review
What a read!
January 22nd, 2014
Fascinating, exciting, intense and illuminating. An excellent portrayal of a relatively unknown story. Excellently written and well-researched.
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1 review
Lost in Shangri-La
July 7th, 2013
Great book, kept me on the edge of my seat! I couldn't put it down once I started it!
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1 review

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