Lost in Tibet: The Untold Story of Five American Airmen, a Doomed Plane, and the Will to Survive

Lost in Tibet: The Untold Story of Five American Airmen, a Doomed Plane, and the Will to Survive

4.5 2
by Miriam Murcutt, Richard Starks

View All Available Formats & Editions

November 1943.

Caught in a violent storm and blown far off their intended course, five American airmen--flying the dangerous Himalayan supply route known as "The Hump"--were forced to bail out just seconds before their plane ran out of fuel. To their astonishment, they found they had landed in the heart of Tibet.

Miraculously, all five survived the jump.


November 1943.

Caught in a violent storm and blown far off their intended course, five American airmen--flying the dangerous Himalayan supply route known as "The Hump"--were forced to bail out just seconds before their plane ran out of fuel. To their astonishment, they found they had landed in the heart of Tibet.

Miraculously, all five survived the jump. But their ordeal was just beginning.

After crossing some of Tibet's most treacherous mountains, the five airmen rode on borrowed mules into the fabled city of Lhasa. Their arrival was not a matter of choice; instead they were escorted to Lhasa by a suspicious Tibetan government, trapped in a tightening vise between China and the West.

The five were among the first Americans ever to enter the Forbidden City (two years before Heinrich Harrer, author of Seven Years in Tibet), and among the last to see it before the Chinese launched their invasion.

While in Tibet, the five Americans had to confront what, to them, seemed a bizarre - even alien - people. At the same time, they had to extricate themselves from the political turmoil that even then was raging around Tibet's right to be independent from China.

To avert an international incident - and to assure their own safety - the five men were forced to leave Lhasa in a hurry. They set out, in the middle of winter, on a perilous journey across the Tibetan plateau - only to find themselves caught in a desperate race against time.

Lost in Tibet is an extraordinary story of high adventure, cultural conflict, and political intrigue. It also sheds light on the remarkable Tibetan people, just at that moment when they were coming to terms with a hostile outside world.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In December 1943, five U.S. airmen returned from a routine supply mission over the Hump, the dangerous aerial supply route from India to China that stretched over the Himalayas. Caught in a violent storm, they bailed out as their plane ran out of fuel. To their surprise, they found themselves in a medieval civilization, far from the war but not beyond the reach of wartime politics. Taken to Lhasa, they were soon the focus of Sino-British-Tibetan politics; Tibet may have been isolated, but it was already the target of Chinese expansionist ambitions. To escape these tensions and return to their base in India, the men set out to cross the mountains dangerously late in the season and barely made it into India, a mildly interesting survival story somewhat complicated by geopolitics. The authors' sketchy treatment of the trek and what is apparently a minor incident in a great political drama make this a low-priority purchase for libraries that do not a have a particular interest in the subject. Primarily for aviation or Tibet collections. Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A well-rendered story of WWII action and adventure, one with plenty of twists and operational pointers for future warriors: "Don't cross mountain ranges. Always go down in valleys."The author of that tip, one of the survivors of a fallen C-87 transport plane, knew whereof he wrote. In December 1943, those GIs were flying over the "Hump," or Himalayas, on their way home from delivering supplies to China. Blown off course by a storm and forced to ditch when their plane ran out of fuel, the men picked their way across the mountains and eventually found a Tibetan village, where they had an education in store: "If the five Americans had thought about Tibet at all," write journalists Starks and Murcutt, "they had done so in terms if caricatures. The average American saw Tibet . . . as a kind of mythical Shangri-la, a country that existed more in the mind than in reality. It was a place they might enjoy reading about, but not one they would actually want to visit." They were right on the last point, for the crewmen found themselves caught up in a Great Game struggle among Tibet, then still free and determined to stay that way, an expansionist China, and an always-in-the-shadows Britain. They were also in danger of being stoned for having broken a taboo, for "no Tibetan, and certainly no foreigner, was ever allowed to look down on a Dalai Lama" as from a passing plane-never mind, as the pilot observed, that any Tibetan who ventured into the hills surrounding Lhasa would stand taller than the nation's ruler. Indeed, the US government later ventured in a face-saving effort, Tibetan forces attacked the GIs as they flew overhead-a lie, though one that helped explain away why, despite the Tibetangovernment's efforts, the Roosevelt administration would never acknowledge that nation's independence, mindful of offending China. For fans of The Burma Road, Into Thin Air, and other tales in the man-vs.-the-elements vein.

Product Details

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.08(w) x 9.06(h) x 0.66(d)

Read an Excerpt

The storm when it hit was wholly unexpected. From Kumming, Crozier had turned the plane onto a course of tw-eight-zero--almost due west--and for nearly an hour had flown through clear, open skies with the earth unrolling smoothly beneath him. For any pilot flying the Hump, this was as good: no real weight in the hold, good visibility in all directions, the serrated peaks of the Santsung Range still a long way ahead. Even so, Crozier couldn't relax. The tension of flying lay deep within him. It was always there, in the tautness across his shoulders and his neck. On the flight deck aound him there was little in the way of conversation, just a few jokey remarks tossed back and forth over the intercom. Most crews liked to keep it that way. Light and impersonal. They didn't want to invest time and emotion in men they might not see again, men who might soon be dead.

Meet the Author

MIRIAM MURCUTT and RICHARD STARKS have traveled extensively in some of the more remote parts of the world. Among their many expeditions is a walk with pilgrims around the koras of Tibet's greatest monasteries and a trek that followed as much as possible the route taken by the lost airmen of Tibet. They live in Boulder, Colorado.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Lost in Tibet: The Untold Story of Five American Airmen, a Doomed Plane, and the Will to Survive 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lost in Tibet was written by Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt and is a thrilling adventure story about five American airmen; Crozier, McCallum, Spencer, Perram and Huffman, who lost their way while flying the Hump and crash-landed in Tibet. After barley parachuting out of their C-87 in time, they were stranded on the mountain top separated from each other and civilization. Only Crozier, McCallum, and Spencer regrouped. They desperately searched for their companions but had to call it off due to the freezing temperature, leaving Huffman and Perram stranded. Huffman had a broken arm and Perram was frostbitten when they finally caught up with the others at an unknown Tibetan village. They then traveled to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. There, they were greeted by the Chinese envoy, Kung , the English delegate, George Sherriff, and a mob of extremely angry Tibetans. The Tibetans were angry because they had flown over the 14th Dali Lama, therefore putting themselves in a higher position then him. The Dali Lama was the god-king of Tibet and he was supposed to be the one who was above all else. They found themselves intertwined with Tibetan politics. The English delegate gets involved in negotiating with the Tibetans the Americans safe return to India. "The sand swirled around, dimming the sun like an eclipse. Crozier felt as if he were being buried alive. The airmen covered their faces, shielding their eyes. But still the sand blew, filling their throats so they found it almost impossible to breath."(Page 145) I believe that this is the crux because it shows the theme that nature is very wild and that you must persevere to get through it. The authors detail conveys his theme by making you feel like you are right there in the action and witnessing everything from freak storms to being disregarded and uncared for. Details like ".., they had been humbled by the generosity of a people who had so little yet gave so much" (page 147)makes you feel worthwhile. Although it may seem positive, it really has a strong felling of negativity. ".like a row of trapped birds."(Page 165) "Pointed like a dagger at the heart of neighboring Burma."(Page 2)These are all good examples of negativity in this book. He also used imagery to prove his point. But since this was a non-fiction book, his points would be easy to portray. So in all, the author portrays his theme by imagery and emotions. Some of the major themes are disregard for human life, to persevere, to have patience, the kindness of human kind, and that nature is difficult to live in. What I liked about this book was the adventure, the exhilarating usage of imagery, and the historical accuracy. The things that irked me were that it was negative, derogatory, and intertwined in politics. You should read this because it is a thrilling story of the survival of five American airmen in "Conan Doyle's lost world." (pg. 47) Rated 4/5. ****
Henry_Berry More than 1 year ago
In 1943 during WWII, five U.S. airmen flying the 'Hump' between Burma and the U.S. ally Nationalist China were blown off course into Tibet in a storm and bailed out of their plane before it crashed. After an arduous trek across the forbidding Tibetan mountainous terrain, they arrived in the capital of Lhasa--only to find themselves at the center of precarious international affairs. The Chinese were trying to take over Tibet. Since the U. S. was an ally of China in the war against Japan, the Tibetans could not believe that the American airmen were not somehow involved with China's hostile aims toward their country. The Chinese were concerned that the airmen would be witnesses to their actions taken to occupy Tibet even while the U. S. government was trying to keep the Chinese movements from becoming widely known. The authors tell this complex, engaging tale clearly, skillfully keeping its different elements in balance while keeping a focus on the plight of the airmen resented by both Tibet and China and dealt with at arm's length by the U. S. until they made their timely overland escape to India with the aid of British citizens in the region who were acting as surrogates for the American government. The authors, both journalists, recount the full story of this little-known episode of WWII that has heretofore received only passing attention. From their travels to mountainous areas of Asia, they bring a special sense of the five airmen's struggles to survive in the Tibetan terrain at the beginning and again at the end of their incredible story.