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As Navy Commander Alan Roberts, a geophysicist, and pilot Lieutenant Jack Carmen attend a briefing for their upcoming expedition to map the South Pole, they are distracted by the arrival of Margaret Hathaway, an attractive reporter with the oceanic press who has been commissioned to accompany them. The trio learn about an oasis of warm water that Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd discovered during his 1947 exploration of Antarctica, and are instructed to gain more information about the anomaly. Weeks later, during the long sail to the South Pole landing site, Alan woos Maggie. When they finally they reach their destination, Alan, Jack and Maggie, along with mechanic Steve Miller, board the expedition helicopter. The fascinating trip takes a turn for the worse when their helicopter runs into blinding storm clouds and is damaged by a flying object, which, unknown to the aircraft's occupants, is a prehistoric pterodactyl. The helicopter's altitude dips sharply, diving to 3,000 feet below sea level, at which point Jack is forced to land. Although the aircraft has only minor damage, Steve cannot fix it without additional equipment. The group survey their environment, which appears to be tropical, and assess that even though they have enough food for six weeks, they must receive help within thirty days, after which the Navy will pull out and leave the area deserted. That night, a nervous Steve drains the radio's battery by secretly making calls for help, but the signal cannot breach the thick cloud layer. The next morning, Jack runs the engine to revive the radio battery while Alan searches the area, deducing that the thick clouds have sealed the environment from any climactic changes and essentially halted its growth since the Mesozoic Era. Soon after, Steve spots fresh water and, nearby, two giant monitor lizards fighting over the carcass of a pterodactyl. When a Tyrannosaurus Rex then spots the group of humans, they run to the helicopter and scare it away by running the propellers. Although they hear a Navy plane searching above the clouds, they cannot contact it, and resolve to set up camp inside the helicopter. Later, Steve brings home a tarsier primate, which Alan identifies as one of the first steps in the ladder of human evolution. When Maggie leaves to feed the monkey, she is chased by a giant lizard and runs blindly into the jungle, where a strange man grabs her. He transports her by raft to his cave, and there explains that he has been surviving alone since his plane crashed during the 1947 Byrd expedition. Half-crazed, he details how he, as "the fittest" of his small group, has thrived by destroying the eggs of the prehistoric beasts, murdering by using his wits, and scaring them off by blowing a loud, threatening horn. Just as he attacks Maggie, Alan, Jack and Steve burst into the cave and rescue her. Introducing himself as Dr. Carl Hunter, the man reveals that he has hidden equipment from his plane crash, and will trade it for Maggie, but the men refuse. As they leave, Hunter raves that they will soon by destroyed by the Arctic night, fear and loneliness. In the morning, the T. Rex chases Alan again, but he escapes, only to see Maggie attacked by a gigantic man-eating plant. Hunter frees her and then disappears, and later she tells Alan that he must sacrifice her for the group. In response, he kisses her passionately. Weeks pass, and with only two days remaining until the Navy leaves the area, a panicked Steve wants to trade Maggie to Hunter, but Alan remains convinced that they can find the equipment. When Alan is distracted, however, Maggie sneaks off to the raft and paddles toward Hunter's cave. An undersea monster soon attacks her, but Hunter appears and drives a spear through its mouth, then carries Maggie to his cave, with Steve in hot pursuit. After Steve attacks Hunter and demands to know where the equipment is, Alan and Jack find the cave and stop Steve from killing Hunter. Maggie tends to Hunter's wounds, and he is so touched by her kindness that he hands over the map to the equipment, prompting Alan to note that living with beasts will turn man into beast, but living with humans will restore man's humanity. Maggie stays with Hunter while the other men uncover his gear, and within hours, the helicopter is fixed. The sea monster arises again, however, and charges the cave, and after Maggie faints, Hunter fights it off and places her in the raft. Meanwhile, the T. Rex assails the men in the helicopter and they are forced to take off. They spot Hunter and Maggie, and hover above the sea in order to airlift her into the craft. The monster swipes Hunter, knocking him unconscious, and Alan dives into the water to rescue him. They lift out of the clouds, where they are finally able to contact the Navy radio man, who sends carriers to rescue them. Only feet away from the Naval craft, the helicopter runs out of gas and crashes into the sea, and all four are pulled onto lifeboats. As the ship cruises back to safety, Maggie accepts Alan's marriage proposal but declines his offer to honeymoon at the South Pole.