Brian Robeson is a thirteen-year-old boy from New York City who is deeply saddened by the recent divorce of his parents. He is on a small plane headed towards his father’s house where he is supposed to stay for the summer. During the flight, the pilot, the sole companion of Brian for the voyage, gives the boy a brief flying lesson. Suddenly, the pilot dies of a heart attack. Using the techniques that he recently learned from the pilot, Brian manages to briefly control the plane, and therefore limit the damage caused by the inevitable crash.
After the crash, despite his hunger and some injuries, Brian remains optimistic and he believes that he will be rescued fairly soon. Unfortunately for him, no help has come for weeks. Initially, Brian is devastated, and he actually tries to commit suicide. However, he slowly starts to accept his fate, and realizes that he must be prepared in order to survive alone in the woods. Therefore, by trial and error, he learns how to efficiently hunt, fish, build a shelter, start a fire, and much more. He learns what food he should and should not eat, and he also builds weapons to help him catch food. In order to survive, Brian had to overcome challenges such as storms and attacks of animals, which will destroy his shelter and leave him injured. Yet, the courageous boy does not give up hope, and he rebuilds. During his entire stay in the woods, he will use his trusted hatchet to aid him in many tasks.
One day, a storm raises the plane from the lake in which it crashed. Brian swims towards it, and he finds an emergency transmitter near the body of the dead pilot. He turns it on, and at first it seems to have no effect, but he is stunned when a plane lands to rescue him.