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Frank Towns, pilot of an oil field cargo-passenger plane, crashes in the North African desert. The crash is the fault of the alcoholic navigator, Lew Moran, who neglected to check the radio, which is now broken. Two of the men on the plane have died in the crash, and the rest are faced with death in the desert as the result of a diminishing water supply and a scarcity of food. The survivors are organized by Towns and are led by two British soldiers, Captain Harris and Sergeant Watson. Harris decides to try to get some water and leads Carlos on an expedition. They are followed by Trucker Cobb, who has suffered a mental breakdown. Only Harris returns. Heinrich Dorfmann, a German model-plane designer, comes up with a plan to remodel the double-engine plane into a salvaged single-engine model. Towns is opposed to the idea at first, but to keep their sanity all the men work on the plane. (In hallucination, they see a mirage of Farida, a dancer.) A party of Arabs meets them on the desert; but when Harris and Dr. Renaud beg them for water, the Arabs slit the two men's throats. Finally the plane is finished, and the surviving men strap themselves to its wings as it rises out of the desert.