It was only about three miles to the top of Lamington Plateau, but there were a range and two gorges in between. One range is the same as another, and one gorge the same as another. Three hours later, about 4 o’clock, I stood on the lip of what I believed to be Lamington Plateau. If I had held a straight course, my position would now be near that dead tree, seen eight hours earlier; but there had been no sun and no visibility, so perhaps my reckoning was all wrong. This, too, was the location of those calls. Well, that could easily be tested. Just a matter of waiting until my breath came back for one big “Coo-ee.” It echoed sharply from across the gorge – a pause – then came the “mystery call,” but this time, so clear and close, that it had the effect of a physical shock. It could not have been more than two hundred yards down through the timber to the left. I answered sharply, and started down in that direction. A second voice joined the first. We exchanged calls to guide me through the thickly meshed tangle.
“Who are they? . . . Members of a search part from Lamington district,” said Reason. “Survivors of the wrecked plane,” said a little voice. “There couldn’t be survivors from a crash in this country – not after this time,” said Reason. “Why are they on that line on my map where the dead tree was?” said the little voice.
But I put the little voice aside, and refused to become excited. They would be bush chaps, searching like myself. Well, a bit of company would be good after these two lonely days. Perhaps, too, they would be able to spare me a change of tucker – some meat, maybe. Only twenty yards away now. What was this? . . . A big gap in the tree-tops just ahead. I tore a piece of vine aside to get a better view, the great tree beside the gap was blackened by fire, right to its branches. God in Heaven! What was this? A numbness shot through my limbs, a sort of coldness that was worse than fear and worse than pain or shock, but was a combination of all three; a feeling that has stayed with me through the crowded months in between, that is with me even as I write.
Before I looked down, I knew that I would see – a mass of smashed and charred metal. It was more than that; it was a horrible, unclean thing, which held the trapped remains of what once were men – a repulsive thing which I could not go near. The voices came again from below the wreck. Two voices – men alive, but in what condition? I stood for a minute, afraid to go on to them, afraid of what I would see.
Proud, I saw first, his eyes far back in his head like those of a corpse, lying as he had lain for ten days on that wet ground with a broken leg that was green and swelling and maggoty. “My God!” I thought, “you have lain all these days in hell, and now I’m too late to save you,” Who can describe the anguish I felt in that swift second. Then I turned to Binstead – he tried to shake hands, a poor hand that was like raw meat. His legs, too, were like that, and the legs of his trousers were worn away in crawling over the rocks to bring water.