1945 New Guinea Gremlin Special rescue

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C-47A Gremlin Special crash
Date 13 May 1945
Summary flight into terrain
Site Baliem Valley
Aircraft type Douglas C-47 Skytrain
Aircraft name Gremlin Special
Operator United States Army Air Corps
Registration 42-23952
Flight origin Jayapura
Destination Baliem Valley ("Shangri-La Valley")
Passengers 19
Crew 5
Fatalities 21
Injuries 3
Survivors 3

The Gremlin Special was a Douglas C-47 Skytrain that crashed during a sightseeing flight over the Shangri-La valley in New Guinea in the eastern part of Netherlands Indies in 1945. The recovery of the three survivors from an isolated valley surrounded by mountains, enemy troops, and native inhabitants made worldwide news at the time and is the subject of the 2011 book Lost in Shangri-La by author Mitchell Zuckoff.[1]


The Gremlin Special flew into the side of a mountain on May 13, 1945. Five passengers survived the initial wreck with two, Sergeant Laura Besley and Private Eleanor Hanna, succumbing to injuries the next day.[2] The survivors were Corporal Margaret Hastings, Sergeant Kenneth Decker and Lieutenant John McCollom.[3]

A Dani tribesman

The Baliem Valley was previously explored in 1938 by Richard Archbold, flying in a PBY-2. Although the press believed the survivors of the Gremlin Special crash to be the first outsiders to encounter the Dani people who inhabited the area, Archbold had sent two exploration teams into the valley in 1938.[2]


Examples of C-47's with Waco CG-4 gliders in England

Search aircraft were dispatched when the Gremlin Special did not return. Three survivors were spotted on the ground during an air search on 17 May.[4] Two medical paratroopers were deployed to the site, followed by 10 other support troops. A journalist, Alexander Cann was dropped into the site to document the rescue attempt, and the interactions with the native people.

The high-altitude rescue was performed using Waco CG-4 gliders towed by a Douglas C-47 Skytrain. Three separate rescues were performed by towing a glider with single pilot into the valley. The glider was then loaded and configured for a live capture by the tow plane which recovered the survivors, towing them back to a base in Hollandia.


  • The "Gremlin Special" was a Douglas C-47 Skytrain
  • A Waco CG-4 was used in the rescue attempt. The first glider sustained damage from low flight over trees and a whipping parachute that was snagged on takeoff. A second CG-4 was used for the remaining two rescues.


  1. ^ "C-47A-35-DL "Gremlin Special/Guinea Gopher" Serial Number 42-23952". Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Zuckoff, Mitchell (2011). Lost In Shangri-La. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0061988349. 
  3. ^ "GLIDER RESCUE FROM NEW GUINEA SHANGRI". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 July 1945. 
  4. ^ "ORDEAL OF PLANE CRASH SURVIVORS". The Mercury. 2 July 1945.