"Lost in Tibet" - Author Interviews Part I


2005.01.13
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Image: The Lyons Press

>> Read part two of the interview with the authors

WASHINGTON—RFA's Tibetan service recently interviewed the Colorado-based authors of the book Lost in Tibet , Richard Stark and Miriam Murcutt.

Their book is based on an event that occurred in 1943. Five U.S. Air Force personnel had successfully delivered their military cargo in China, and were flying back hoping to reach their base in India without mishap.

They got caught in a storm and lost their bearings, then ran out of fuel. The five men bailed out over Tibet in order to avoid a crash.

Rare glimpse of life without Chinese rule

RFA first asked Miriam Murcutt what she thought was the relevance of the episode today.

Their experience was unique...They experienced pre-Chinese Tibet, which very, very few Westerners had ever seen.

MM : The airmen who were lost in Tibet…their experience was unique. They were the only airmen to bail out into Tibet and survive during World War Two. And so, they experienced pre-Chinese Tibet, which very, very few Westerners had ever seen.

RFA : The airmen were in fact the seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, and 11th Americans to ever set foot in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. They arrived in Lhasa two years before the arrival of the Austrian national, Heinrich Harrer, who wrote Seven Years in Tibet . Co-author Richard Stark told RFA how he first became interested in the topic.

Story reveals cultural and political wounds

RS : Well, we were planning a trip to Tibet ourselves anyway, and we were doing a bit of reading around the subject of who managed to get to Lhasa in terms of Westerners—who managed to get there first—and we came across a brief mention of the five airmen who became the basis of our story.

RFA : Stark describes the airmen's story as one of ordeal and hardship: trying to get out safe from the doomed plane; bailing out safely into Tibet; and then getting out of Tibet over land after passing through Lhasa. Once they were engaged in researching the subject, they came up against many cultural issues and political conflicts, which strengthened their resolve to keep on with the project.

MM : We didn't start out with a political intention behind the book. We started out with the idea of researching what the story was. As it evolved it became clear that you read about the political history of Tibet that, in 1911 after the Manchu dynasty fell in China that really any influence of the Chinese that existed in Tibet, in fact ceased. And Chinese were basically sent out of Tibet by the Tibetans.

RS : That is true. I mean, basically what happened is that we both knew obviously, before we went into Tibet that the Chinese had invaded, long after the airmen had left. What we hadn't realized when we first started looking for this book is that the American airmen while they were in Lhasa had become involved in the struggle that was going on, even then, between China, trying to assert its right over Tibet and Tibet, trying to maintain its independence.

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