When Peter DeLeo set out one Sunday morning on a sightseeing and photography trip over the central Sierra Nevada mountains in California, he had no idea that he would soon be fighting for his life with the odds stacked very much against him. DeLeo's single-engine plane encountered turbulence, and he and his two passengers crashed in the mountains. All three survived the accident but sustained multiple injuries. DeLeo had broken ribs, a shattered ankle, and a badly damaged shoulder. After assessing their situation, they decided that the passengers should remain with the plane while DeLeo would hike out to bring back help. It was already winter; he left the limited emergency supplies with the plane's passengers; and he was hampered by his injuries, but DeLeo was determined to get help. He found or improvised shelter at night, carefully warmed himself during the daytime, drank from small pools of melted snow and ice, and slowly but steadily made his way toward civilization. Suffering from exhaustion and on the verge of collapse, he found a hot spring that provided him with temporary warmth and insects to eat. Injuries, dehydration, malnutrition, and a two-day blizzard slowed him, and a rockslide nearly killed him just as he glimpsed the valley and highway that he so desperately sought, but DeLeo's courage saw him through.
Meanwhile, Civil Air Patrol planes searched fruitlessly for the lost plane and for survivors; twice, DeLeo frantically tried to signal the search planes, but to no avail. When DeLeo finally reached a highway, he found it almost impossible to convince the authorities that he was the lost pilot who had been all but given up for dead. His astonishing survival, one of the most remarkable feats of endurance on record, made national and even international news.
Now, for the first time, Peter DeLeo tells his remarkable story in gripping detail. His amazing saga is destined to become a classic.
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Simon & Schuster
January 11, 2005
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Excerpt from Survive! by Peter DeLeo
Chapter One: The Crash of Maule N5629J
November 27, 1994
Joshua Approach, Maule N5629-Juliet, over," I say.
Both of my passengers, who are wearing headphones, listen in with me. But all we hear is static.
"It's OK, Lloyd," I say. "They can't pick us up with these mountains obstructing our radio transmission. We usually make contact with them around Owens Valley."
I scan the instrument panel. The altimeter reads 12,000 feet above sea level, a safe altitude in this part of California's Sierra Nevada, even though the tallest peaks here rise to heights greater than 14,000 feet. Our airspeed is 145 mph, and our heading, as we fly toward the Inyo Mountains and Death Valley, is 020 degrees. Holding the plane straight, I adjust the elevator trim, a wheel on the floor that helps level the plane in flight, and Maule N5629-Juliet smooths out.
"Boy, it's cold up here," Lloyd mutters through chattering teeth. "But I love it," he adds with an ear-to-ear grin. It's clear by the look on his face that Lloyd Matsumoto, a fifty-seven-year-old drug and alcohol counselor for the city of Long Beach, is having the time of his life. It's his first trip and, captivated by all these awesome views, he is not sure what to photograph first, so he snaps photos at everything he sees.
Cold air is seeping into the cockpit, so I check the exterior air temperature gauge. It reads ten below zero. No wonder I feel chilled. I pull off a glove and zip up my jacket.
Also penetrating the cockpit is the deafening roar of the 235- horsepower engine and the chopping rhythm of the propeller. Fortunately, our headsets muffle most of this extraneous noise and the three of us can communicate easily through the onboard intercom system.
"Which way this time?" asks Waverly "Wave" Hatch from the seat behind me and Lloyd. Unlike Lloyd, Wave is an experienced flyer. He knows that from our present position, we can head over to Yosemite, the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, or Owens Valley. From Mount Whitney we can fly to Lee Vining, a small airport resting at an elevation of 6802 feet, slightly north of Mammoth on the shores of Mono Lake close to the Nevada state line.