Chapter 18 Summary

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Brian makes the laborious trek out to the plane two more times but is unable to find a way to get in. Completely frustrated, he slams his fist against the exposed part of the aircraft and is surprised to find that the aluminum covering gives way easily under his blow. Taking his hatchet, he begins to hack through the tail of the plane, but in his excitement he becomes careless and drops the hatchet down into the water.

Enraged at his own stupidity, Brian knows that he must find a way to get his hatchet back. He understands that

without the hatchet he [has] nothing—no fire, no tools, no weapons—he [is] nothing.

Brian makes a series of desperate dives beneath the water, refining his technique and going a little deeper every time. Finally, he hits bottom and, to his great relief, retrieves the hatchet.

Resuming work on the tail of the plane, Brian creates a hole large enough for him to squeeze in, feet first. Although the opening is crossed with “braces and formers and awful tangled mess,” he manages to “wiggle through” and get inside. Brian lowers himself into the plane, searching with his toes for the cloth or canvas of the survival pack. He returns to the surface to refill his lungs several times. At long last, jammed all the way into the plane against the backs of the seats, he finds what he is looking for.

Taking a deep breath for a final dive, Brian lowers himself down one more time, flipping himself over in the water so he can move head first and pull at the bag with his hands. As the survival pack breaks free and begins to rise toward the surface, Brian catches sight of the light coming through the plane’s window and sees the pilot’s ghastly head.

The pilot’s head is little more than a “cleaned skull” attached loosely to what used to be his body. The fish—the same fish Brian has been eating—have been eating the dead man’s flesh all this time. Brian’s mind “scream[s] in horror,” and he is sick in the water. Gagging and choking, he instinctively pushes himself to the surface and hangs on the tail, “heaving and gasping...fighting to clear the picture of the pilot from his mind.”

At long last, Brian regains his breath. Looking to the shore, he is calmed by the sight of the beautiful landscape. He can tell by the position of the sun that the afternoon is waning, and he knows he still has a lot to do. Brian pulls and jerks on the survival pack and eventually manages to squeeze it through the maze of cables and out of the plane’s tail. By the time he gets the pack out and secures it on the raft, he is exhausted, but he still has to get the raft to shore.

Laboriously working the raft through the water, Brain thinks many times that he is not going to make it. By the time his feet touch the shore, he is too weak to stand. For almost three hours in the dark, Brian wrestles with his treasure, dragging it from the shoreline to his shelter. As he finally drops the pack in front of his doorway, he collapses and immediately falls into a deep sleep, secure in the glow of his accomplishment—“he [has] done it.”

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