Near the end of WWII, a plane crashed on New Guinea. A colonel based there thought he and another pilot had been the first white men to discover an Eden-like valley filled with towns of natives on the island. As a morale booster, he would send planes filled with soldiers and WACs to the valley, dubbed "Shangri-La" after the nirvana of LOST HORIZONS. One of the planes crashed and only three survive - two soldiers and one WAC. The WAC and one of the soldiers were severely injured.
The account then tracks their survival, how they were found and how they were rescued. The author uses diaries, Army records and interviews to reconstruct the events.
Mr. Zuckoff provides far more then a simple account, however. He provides some history of the participants. Especially interesting were the Phillipino-American soldiers who volunteered for the rescue mission and the rescue operation itself (don't want to give it away). The most fascinating aspect, though, was the study of the natives who had lived a stone age war-mongering existence completely isolated from the rest of the world, or even the rest of the island and their interactions with the Americans. What makes it so unique is that he has the perspectives from both the American side and the natives' side because he was able to New Guinea last year and interview natives who still remembered the events. Thus he was able to provide their thinking as well as the Americans'. It is frequently amusing to learn the gross misunderstandings of members of the two so different cultures. Even with these gross misunderstandings they were able to peacefully co-exist for seven weeks.
The background and the retrospective perspective make this far more than just a plane crash sage. Highly recommended.