If you crash in a frigid world . . .

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - RE­VIEW BY HANK H. COX Hank H. Cox is a writer liv­ing in Takoma Park.

This would be a great read at the beach on a hot sum­mer day: A young air­man sur­vives a crash in the Alaskan wilder­ness in the dead of win­ter and some­how, through pluck and luck, sur­vives in sub-zero tem­per­a­tures for 81 days be­fore be­ing res­cued. Of course, the reader knows go­ing in that the hero sur­vives, so that com­pro­mises the drama. But it is a riv­et­ing story nonethe­less.

First Lt. Leon Crane was co-pi­lot of a B-24 fly­ing out of Ladd Field in De­cem­ber 1943 when the plane went down in bad weather. The B-24 was a re­li­able warhorse, but like many other wartime weapons, it had been rushed into ser­vice be­fore all the bugs were worked out. Crane and his crew were gath­er­ing data on how the air­craft han­dled se­vere weather when it crashed. Crane was the only sur­vivor, ap­par­ently not hurt at all. He found him­self in a re­mote world of ice, snow and bit­terly cold tem­per­a­tures. By chance he had some matches and a let­ter he had just re­ceived from his fa­ther, with which he started a fire to ward off the cold that first night.

Crane had no idea where he was, and the Air Force had no idea where the plane crashed. Af­ter a few days of fu­tile searches, the plane and crew were writ­ten off, their rel­a­tives no­ti­fied. Crane trudged through mounds of snow for mile af­ter mile with stoic de­ter­mi­na­tion. He fi­nally found a cabin left be­hind by a gold miner who had thought­fully stashed some food. Af­ter 20 days there, Crane sal­lied forth, hav­ing a va­ri­ety of mis­ad­ven­tures be­fore he stum­bled upon another cabin, this one with peo­ple in it.

He sur­vived the war and lived a long life, dy­ing in 2002, but said lit­tle about his Alaskan ad­ven­ture, which was more a tale of for­ti­tude than one of hero­ism. The au­thor fills in the gaps with as­sump­tions about what Crane must have been think­ing at var­i­ous times, as well as with ex­tra­ne­ous ob­ser­va­tions. For ex­am­ple, we are told of a let­ter writ­ten by young Cpl. Dashiell Ham­mett to Lil­lian Hell­man about Olivia De Hav­il­land’s morale-boost­ing visit to troops in Adak, Alaska, a long way from where Crane’s plane went down. On the other hand, the au­thor pro­vides a good dose of fron­tier lore about how lo­cals sur­vive in the bru­tal Alaskan wilder­ness, which is both in­ter­est­ing and per­ti­nent to Crane’s ex­pe­ri­ence.

Over­all, this is an in­ter­est­ing saga of sur­vival against for­mi­da­ble odds.

81 DAYS BE­LOW ZERO The In­cred­i­ble Sur­vival Story of aWorldWar II Pi­lot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilder­ness By Brian Mur­phy with Toula Vla­hou Da Capo. 238 pp. $24.99

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