Connect with us

Thai Life

Phuket books – Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Legacy Phuket Gazette

Published

 on 

PHUKET: Mitchell Zuckoff is a hack journalist and a very good one. His specialty is dredging up old forgotten stories and making them new again.

His latest effort is Lost in Shangri-La (Harper Press, New York, 2011, 384pp). “Escape from a Hidden World – A True Story” is the subtitle of this tale of a plane wreck and rescue in New Guinea during the latter days of World War II.

At the time, the story made headline news and the three survivors were feted from one end of the United States to another. They are long since forgotten but Zuckoff brings them back to life again.

Lieutenant John McCollord, Sergeant Kenneth Decker and Corporal Margaret Hastings, a petite, beautiful, spunky corporal in the Women’s Army Corps, were the only survivors of a sightseeing C-47 transport plane that went down in New Guinea’s Balien Valley amid Stone Age tribes with no knowledge of the outside world.

The outside world wasn’t aware of them until 1938 when playboy American explorer Richard Archbold flew over a valley inhabited by over 60,000 tribal people who grew sweet potatoes, raised pigs and killed each other.

“They did not fight for land, wealth or power. Neither side sought to repel or conquer a foreign people, to protect a way of life, or to change their enemies’ beliefs, which both sides already shared. Neither side considered war a necessary evil, a failure of diplomacy, or an interruption of a desired peace. Peace was not waiting on the far side of war. There was no far side. War moved through different phases in the valley. It ebbed and flowed. But it never ended.”

The 22 military passengers on the C-47 were on a sightseeing mission over the valley when pilot error caused the plane crash into a mountain. After two days of recuperation, the three survivors fought their way through jungle and streams into a clearing. Here they set out yellow tarpaulin covers from life rafts to signal rescue planes and, sure enough, were spotted by a B-17 bomber. They had been lost for three days.

Gradually, the survivors came to the realization that the clearing was not an accident. They were in a garden of sweet potatoes and rhubarb. Then they heard voices.

“The jungle rustled and shook. As the survivors stared helplessly in that direction, their fears took human form: dozens of nearly naked black men, their eyes shining, their bodies glistening with soot and pig grease, their hands filled with adzes made from wood and sharpened stone, emerged from behind the curtain of leaves.”

Would they be killed? There were some votes in that direction but the final decision was to help them. Essentially, a quarter of the way into the book, the story is over. The rest is the mechanics of rescue.

Nine elite troopers are parachuted into another part of the valley, a clearing that turns out to be a designated battlefield or no man’s land that separated the territories of the warring Logo-Mhael and Kurelu clans. The troopers are quickly surrounded by 200 armed warriors.

“Although some natives thought the visitors were spirits, others believed they were warriors like themselves who had escaped a massacre… They felt certain of one thing: the strangers were not their Kurelu enemies, so they had no immediate need to kill them.”

The three survivors were eventually rescued in a daring glider mission and returned to a heroes’ welcome in the United States. Then they faded back into obscurity. Margaret married, divorced and raised two children while working at a clerical job in Rome, New York.

During a reunion of three survivors and glider pilots in 1974, she remarked: “Fear is something I don’t think you experience unless you have a choice. If you have a choice, then you’re liable to be afraid. But without a choice, what is there to be afraid of? You just go along doing what has to be done.”

Asked if she’d like to return to New Guinea, she replied: “You bet!” She died of cancer four years later.

— James Eckardt

 

Get more from The Thaiger

📱 Download our app on Android or iOS
👋 Have your say on our Thailand forums
🔔 Subscribe to our daily email newsletter
📺 Subscribe / Join YouTube for daily shows
👍 Like/Follow us on Facebook
🐦 FOLLOW us on Twitter
📷 FOLLOW us on Instagram

image

Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Pattaya16 seconds ago

“Pattaya Move On” reopening likely to be postponed as Covid cases surge

Thailand14 mins ago

3 metre long python caught near family’s house in Phuket

Thailand2 hours ago

Government says not to buy Favipiravir/Avigan online, says it might be fake

Welcome back to Thailand!

Thaiger is getting behind local businesses for the restart of tourism in Thailand - up to 50% discounts across all advertising packages!

Phuket2 hours ago

Phuket bans alcohol sales at restaurants, issues order amid rise of Covid cases

Best of2 hours ago

Top 5 Mexican restaurants in Pattaya

Thailand2 hours ago

Good Morning Thailand | New restrictions, new Red Line train in Bangkok, Covid latest

image
Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Thailand2 hours ago

Ministry of Public Health says Pfizer vaccine will be allocated correctly, others disagree

Cambodia3 hours ago

Rollout of Covid-19 vaccination for teenagers gets underway in Cambodia

Phuket3 hours ago

Man goes missing off Freedom Beach, Phuket

Phuket3 hours ago

Phuket tourism sector calls for island to be “green-listed” for foreign tourists – VIDEO

Best of4 hours ago

Phuket’s best day trips and tours

Business4 hours ago

What is so important about the Sandbox?

Tourism4 hours ago

Thailand’s foreign tourist numbers expected to plummet during 2021

Central Thailand4 hours ago

Nurse dies of Covid-19 a week after receiving first dose of Sinovac

Coronavirus (Covid-19)5 hours ago

Tuesday Covid Update: 18,901 new cases and 147 deaths

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism5 months ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism5 months ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism5 months ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand6 months ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Southern floods, Face mask fines, Thai Air Asia woes | January 8

Trending