The action of the book fast-forwards to early September 1992 when five strangers fortuitously converge on a bus abandoned by a river near Alaska's Stampede Trail. The first two visitors, an Anchorage couple, notice a bad smell coming from the bus and see a note taped to the bus's rear exit door, which reads:
S.O.S. I need your help. I am injured, near death, and too weak to hike out of here. I am all alone, this is NO JOKE. In the name of God, please remain to save me. I am out collecting berries close by and shall return this evening. Thank you, Chris McCandless. August?
The Anchorage couple is too upset by the note and the smell of decay to investigate further. They are soon joined, however, by three hunters riding all-terrain vehicles. Looking inside the bus, one of the men, an auto-body shop employee named Gordon Samel, discovers a dead body in a sleeping bag atop a makeshift bunk.
Another hunter uses his two-way radio to contact Alaska State Troopers so they can evacuate the body. The following morning, a police helicopter arrives and the body of Christopher McCandless is removed, along with his camera and film, the S.O.S. note, and a diary.
An autopsy on McCandless finds no broken bones or internal injuries. Because his remains weigh a mere 67 pounds, starvation is recorded as the cause of death.
This chapter introduces one of the primary motifs of Into the Wild, that of documents. Because the book's subject, Christopher McCandless, has died before author Jon Krakauer can meet him, Krakauer must rely on the testimony of the people McCandless encountered in order to stitch together the story of the young man's journey — and especially on the documents McCandless left behind. The first of these documents is McCandless's S.O.S. note. Others will include his journals, the notes he made in the books he read, graffiti he scratched into various surfaces, and photos he took of himself. To these Krakauer will add maps of the places McCandless visited, relevant quotations from a wide variety of authors, and even a brief memoir of the author's own young manhood, inserted near the end of Into the Wild. All of these enrich our understanding of McCandless and help us to believe that the amazing story we read in Into the Wild really happened.
The fact that someone as articulate and effective at communicating as McCandless died alone, having written a kind of letter (the S.O.S. note) that went unread until it was too late, is an example of irony. Also ironic: McCandless, who encountered no one during the four months between his entrance into the bush and his death there of starvation, is discovered not by one fellow trekker but by five — all within days of McCandless's death.