The main character is thirteen year-old Brian, who is on his way to his dad's house when terror strikes. The pilot has a heart attack, and does not survive, leaving Brian trying to drive the plane. He crashes, and is forced to try to live in the wilderness until help comes.
After the crash, Brian is determined to survive, he has to. He has to see his mom, and his dad again. He decides to get food, for he is starving. He runs into a bear and about has a heart attack himself. He finds berries and drinks lake water to stay alive.
When Brian gets comfortable with his surroundings, he decides that there are certain things that need to be done. He uses his hatchet, a gift from his mother, to make sparks to start a fire. He lives on berries, fish, and the occasional turtle egg. That changes after Brian's visitors, bears, and of course, porcupines. He begins to understand how to survive in the wilderness, with the help of some science classes.
Brian hears something. He gasps! It's a search plane. He sets off a fire, yells, and waves his hands around. Despite his efforts, the plane keeps going. Brian is utterly disappointed. It just buzzes right by him, not even noticing Brian. This makes him mad, yet he calms down.
One night as Brian is sleeping, a tornado hits. He bolts upright, and holds on to anything for dear life. After it passes, Brian realizes that he lost everything. He is determined, after a suicidal thought, that he will live. Brian is a new person, seeing things clearly and observing more. He set his mind on getting the survival pack out of the plane. Oh the riches it contained. He decided to have a feast and started cooking.
Buzzzzzzz. That sound strikes Brian as odd. He heads over to the other side of the lake and stops dead in his tracks. A plane, a search plane, is parked at the long end of the L-shaped lake. The driver is astonished. "We gave up a search for you months ago." Brian gets a ride home, so relived after 54 days to have plenti some meal.