The Disappearance of Michael Rockefeller

It’s one of the most enduring unsolved mysteries of the 20th century — the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller off the south coast of Netherlands New Guinea in 1961. Despite an extensive search overseen by his father, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, no trace of Michael was found, nor has any been found since. The open-ended mystery has proven to be catnip for generations of journalists, filmmakers, and adventurers. While the fate of the 23-year-old Harvard graduate remains unknown, the broad outlines of his final days are undisputed. The heir was on an expedition to collect woodcarvings by the Asmat people when his makeshift catamaran overturned. His two local guides swam to shore, while Rockefeller and Dutch anthropologist Rene Wassing stayed with the boat as it drifted out into the Arafura Sea. The next day, perhaps 10 miles offshore, Rockefeller decided to swim for it. His famous last words to Wassing, who stayed with the boat and was rescued by a search party the next day, were: “I think I can make it.” The question of whether he made it to shore remains unanswered.