Excerpt from “Lost in Shangri-La” by Mitchell Zuckoff ~~Found~~

picture-LostInShangriLa-ZuckoffAt around eleven a.m. on Wednesday, 16 May, after five hours of trudging through the stream, McCollom climbed up the 2.5-metre bank.
‘Come on,’ he called, ‘this is it.’
Decker scrambled up, dragging Margaret behind him. On flat ground at the top, she fell face-forward on to the earth, unable to take another step. Decker and McCollom went ahead while she crawled after them on her hands and knees. A half-hour later, she reached the spot fifty metres from the stream where Decker and McCollom lay panting on the ground. Feeling the warmth of the sun’s rays, she noticed that for the first time in days she could see a wide expanse of sky. They had reached their goal, a clearing in the rainforest atop a small knoll.
Within minutes, the survivors heard the roar of four powerful engines. They looked up to see a B-17 bomber, its unmistakable shape silhouetted high overhead against the blue sky. The trio waved to draw its attention, but the pilot of the Flying Fortress flew away without spotting them. They rested and ate what passed for lunch, disappointed by the near miss but heartened by the sight of the plane.
An hour later, either the same B-17 or another just like it made another pass over the clearing. This time McCollom was not taking any chances. He jumped to his feet.
‘Get out the tarps!’ he shouted.
McCollom and Decker raced to untie their supplies and spread out the yellow tarpaulin covers they had salvaged from the Gremlin Special’s life rafts. The B-17, with Captain William D. Baker at the controls, was flying over the jungle at high altitude. Along with his usual crew, Baker had brought along an unusual passenger for a heavy bomber: Major Cornelius Waldo, the Catholic chaplain at the Hollandia base.
Margaret worried that the pilot would miss them again and declare that sector of the mountain fully searched, with no sign of wreckage or survivors. She begged her companions to hurry.
Just when it seemed that the B-17 was about to fly away, Captain Baker turned the big bomber and circled back over the clearing. Still, Baker gave none of the traditional signs that he had seen them. McCollom called to the sky:
‘Come on down, come on down and cut your motors,’ he cried. ‘Cut your motors and dip your wings.’
Margaret chimed in: ‘I know they see us, I know they do.’
Decker added a note of optimism: ‘They see us by now.’
Even though Baker was flying high above the clearing, he could not mistake the survivors for any natives that might be around. One obvious distinction was that all three wore clothing. But the real giveaway was the tarp. Less than five minutes after the survivors spotted the B-17, the B-17 returned the favour. Baker raced his engines. He dipped his wings.
They had been found.
McCollom had made the right call when he had ordered them to leave the crash site and march down the mountain and through the icy stream. As one pilot experienced in jungle searches described it, ‘An airplane going into the trees makes a very small gash in a limitless sea of green.’ By leading them to a clearing and laying out the bright yellow tarpaulin, McCollom had given them a shot at being rescued.

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1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Military, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “Lost in Shangri-La” by Mitchell Zuckoff ~~Found~~

  1. During World War Two, on 13 May 1945, a US military airplane called “The Gremlin Special”, crashed in a very remote and isolated part of New Guinea. There were 24 people on board, but only three survivors.

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