On May 13, 1945, a sightseeing flight over Shangri-La valley in New Guinea in the eastern part of the Netherlands Indies ended in a devastating accident. Out of the 24 passengers, only five survived, but there were only three the next day. Two of them succumbed to the injuries from the plane crash.
The remaining injured survivors battled the unknown territory with only one goal, to stay alive. Here is the remarkable story of how they survived in extraordinary circumstances and lived to tell this fantastic tale.
How Did the Gremlin Special Crash?
The Gremlin Special was a Douglas C-47 Skytrain carrying the passengers on this tour. The exact cause of the accident is unknown; however, numerous factors caused the Gremlin Special to crash from the information gathered.
Engine trouble was one of the reasons the plane crashed into the side of the mountains. Other data suggests that the pilot was new to the terrain, and the low altitude and unclear visibility caused the accident. Whatever the reason was, the Gremlin Special had crashed and landed in one of the remote spots of this unfamiliar area.
The Three Brave Survivors
Women’s Army Corps Corporal Margaret Hastings, Sergeant Kenneth Decker, and Lieutenant John McCollom were the three survivors. They were seriously injured, with severe burns and other injuries. The survivors needed a couple of days to recover before they began their trek down the mountainside.
Scavenging what they could from the wreckage, they commenced their journey down the mountain to a more visible area, making it easy for any rescue aircraft to spot them. Even though they were trained in the basics of survival, they had never gone through or experienced such an incident. Relying on only essential equipment and badly injured from the crash, their only hope was for help to arrive and avoid the native tribes, believed to be cannibals.
The Rescue Aircraft Has Issues
After a couple of miles, they were spotted by a rescue aircraft, deployed to search for the Gremlin Special when it did not return. They could not immediately evacuate the survivors due to the surroundings. It was rugged terrain, and the three of them would need to wait for the nightmare to end.
There wasn’t a landing strip big enough for the airplane to land, and it was challenging to operate a helicopter in this remote valley. Life rafts were dropped from the rescue aircraft so that the survivors could use them as a shelter against the rain.
The Native Tribe Were Helpful
The survivors were discovered by the Dani tribe that same day. They were a primitive tribe living in the Stone Age era, with no technology or primary education. Since they were believed to be cannibals, their only option was to befriend the natives.
They offered them candies as a peace offering which the Dani tribe accepted. The tribe offered their help to the survivors. Using sign language, they assisted in building a fire for them to stay warm. Their initial fears about the tribe turned out to be untrue as they ended up a considerable help.
The Rescue Mission Was Successful
A team of paratroopers dropped in with medical supplies and enough personnel to clear the area, making it possible for a combat glider to land. The survivors boarded the glider, hooked to two airplanes, and towed out of the valley.
The whole rescue operation took four weeks and three gliders to bring all the people to the base. It must have been a hellish ordeal for the three involved. Not only did they have to deal with many deaths, but they needed to survive. Thankfully with a bit of local help, they managed it.