In February 1966, while on a combat mission, Lt. Dieter Dengler, a German-born U.S. Navy pilot in squadron VA-145, flying from the carrier USS Ranger, is shot down in his Douglas A-1 Skyraider over Laos. He survives the crash, only to be captured by the Pathet Lao. Dengler is offered leniency by the province governor, if he will sign a document condemning America, but he refuses. Dengler is tortured and taken to a prison camp. There he meets his fellow prisoners: American pilots Gene DeBruin and Duane W. Martin, Y.C., Procet and Phisit, some of whom have been captives for years.
Dengler immediately plans to escape, but receives only grudging approval from the others. All are suffering from malnutrition, unhygienic conditions and abuse by the guards. After some months the food supply worsens further, and they learn that the starving guards are planning to kill them and return to their village, so the prisoners agree to put the long-prepared plan into action. This involves escaping through a weakened place in the perimeter fence, dividing into two groups, circling the perimeter fence in opposite directions, converging on the guard hut during the lunch hour to overwhelm the guards, and contacting the American forces for rescue.
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