Murder Over Kodiak
Alaska Wilderness Mystery Author
Alaska Masterminds Charter Member
I don’t remember Steve circling and landing on Spiridon Lake. I must have jumped from the plane into the shallow water lapping at the lake shore, mindless that I wasn’t wearing rubber boots. The first thing I recall is pushing my way through the dense vegetation, my feet numb in my wet sneakers and socks. I trotted to keep pace with Steve and tripped over a fallen alder, ripping the leg of my jeans. My knee burned, and blood oozed down my leg. The pain felt good. I wanted to be punished for what had happened to Craig. How would I ever forgive myself for this?
I was watching my feet, trying not to trip again, when Steve stopped abruptly, and I bumped into him. We had arrived at the crash site, and Steve was staring at the piece of metal with “9N” painted on it.
“The bodies?” I said.
Steve shook his head. “Disintegrated, I guess.”
My tongue stuck in my mouth. The saliva was gone. “There’s got to be something left.”
I began poking through the weeds and found several scraps of heavy, red nylon. Wasn’t Craig’s backpack red? I couldn’t remember. I saw a small, jagged piece of corrugated metal that looked like the skin of a camera case. Maybe it had belonged to the tourists.
I saw a leather object a few feet away, and as I walked closer, I realized it was a leather shoe or part of a boot. I thought it strange that the shoelace was still woven through the eyelets. How had that small piece of string survived, when nearly everything else had evaporated? I bent down to look at the shoe. I didn’t think I should touch anything, so I held back my long hair with one hand and twisted my face close to the singed, brown leather. There was something in the shoe. I squinted, fighting back the urge to touch the object.
I screamed and jumped up. I ran into the woods and stumbled into a thick mass of alders. Black waves broke in front of my eyes. I fell onto my hands and knees and retched, emptying my stomach.
“What did you find?” I heard Steve’s footsteps behind me.
I tried to stand, but my legs were liquid. Steve reached out his hand to me, and I clutched it, pulling myself upright. I put my hand over my mouth and thought I was going to be sick again.
“A foot.” I could barely hear my voice above the roar in my head, and Steve frowned at me.
“There’s part of a foot in a shoe.”
“Oh man!” Steve turned around and threw his head back. He stared at the sky for a few moments and then said, “Let’s get out of here. We’d better contact the Coast Guard and the FAA. Human remains will attract wild animals.”
He didn’t expand on his explanation, but I got the picture. Before long, bears, foxes, eagles, ravens, and a host of other scavengers would begin picking through the wreckage, searching for the remains of the pilot and five passengers.
I clung to Steve’s arm while we retraced our steps to the lake shore. Thunder crashed in my head, driving away coherent thoughts. Once I’d climbed into the airplane seat, I leaned back, closed my eyes, and tried to quiet the noise.
“What do you think happened?” I asked Steve, after we had been flying for fifteen minutes.
He remained quiet, and I was just about to repeat my question when his voice cracked in my headphones. “If I ask you something, will you promise not to mention it to the FAA?”
“What kind of Haz Mats did your guy have?”
Haz Mats was airline jargon for hazardous materials, and the heading covered everything from paint to batteries to fuel. I had signed an FAA form for Kodiak Flight Services stating I understood that I and my representatives would be flying on charters with hazardous materials. Since it is impossible to set up a camp without some sort of hazardous material, I had considered my signature a formality.
“He had a battery, a small tank of propane, and some white gas. Why?” I thought I knew the answer.
“It’s possible that Bill did something we’re all guilty of doing.”
I stared out the windshield, seeing Bill’s actions like a movie in my mind. “He threw the propane tank, the battery, and the gas in the same compartment in the float.”
“We don’t know that,” Steve said. “It’s just a possibility.”
I thought it sounded like a good possibility. “Could those fuels have done that much damage?”
“I don’t know.” Steve paused. “But something blew that plane to pieces. I’m no expert, but twisted metal and embedded particles are evidence of a powerful explosion.”
“Couldn’t the plane have crashed and then exploded?”
“No. It blew up in the air.”
I didn’t understand how Steve could know the plane had exploded in the air, and as he’d said, he was not an explosives expert. I hoped the FAA would be able to determine the source of the explosion, because I didn’t think I could live the rest of my life not knowing what had caused Craig’s death. I felt responsible for him being on that plane, and I wanted to know what had happened to it. I wouldn’t volunteer any information to the FAA that would make Bill look negligent, but if I was asked, I would tell the investigator about the fuels and the battery in Craig’s gear.
Steve didn’t say anything else to me on the way to town. He didn’t radio the Coast Guard or his office, and I guessed that he wanted to wait until he got to town and the privacy of a telephone before he made those calls. The Coast Guard and other authorities would have several hours before dark to secure the crash site.
I wondered who would investigate the crash. Once the Coast Guard determined there were no survivors, the Alaska State Troopers and the FAA probably would take over the investigation. Would a trooper call me tonight? I didn’t want some anonymous policeman contacting Craig’s parents. I had never met Craig’s parents, but I was sure Craig had talked about me, so they would know my name. I’d place the call as soon as I got back to the lab. Since I hadn’t seen Craig’s body, I had trouble believing he was dead. Still, his campsite was gone, so he must have been on the plane, and no one had lived through that crash.
I glanced at Steve as we taxied up to the floatplane ramp. His teeth were clenched, and he stared forward. He had called his dispatcher to report he was landing, but when she asked if he’d found Bill, he told her he would call her in a few moments. As soon as he cut the engine, he jumped onto the float and leapt to the dock. He bent and tied the plane to the dock in one fluid movement. Then, he turned and ran.
I was still unbuckling my seat belt as Steve sprinted up the ramp to the parking lot. I had none of his energy. My wet feet felt glued to the metal floor of the plane. My body trembled as I climbed to the dock. The air smelled sour. I inhaled rotting seaweed and processed fish. I bent over the side of the dock and vomited into the ocean.
I sat in my Explorer and looked at my watch. It was 6:37. With any luck, the lab would be deserted, because I couldn’t face my coworkers now. I considered driving to my apartment, but I had to go to the lab to look up Craig’s parents’ number, and I knew I should call them as soon as possible.
I drove down Rezanof, where I saw kids skating and riding bicycles, their parents standing in their yards, enjoying the perfect June evening. Baskets brimming with blue lobelia, yellow begonias, and red fuchsias framed porches, while the last round of brightly-colored tulips made way for budding lilies. The beautiful evening only deepened my despair. Craig never would smell another flower, watch another movie, or date another girl. His life had been blown apart in its prime.
How had it happened? I asked myself that question for the hundredth time since I’d first seen the scattered bits of metal. Had the pilot put the propane bottle and the battery in the same float compartment? If the metal propane bottle fell across both battery terminals, causing a spark, and if the propane bottle leaked, it could have exploded. Still, that was a lot of ifs, and there had been no turbulence to cause the propane tank to shift in flight. I could think of no better explanation for the explosion, though.
I drove slowly as I bumped along the winding road to the marine center and was relieved to see the empty parking lot. I parked, slid from my Explorer, and dragged myself through the large glass doors. The Kodiak Braxton Marine Biology and Fisheries Research Center was one of the most beautiful laboratories I ever had seen. Huge glass windows fronted the two-story building, offering a panorama of the Pacific Ocean and a bird’s-eye view of the arrival and departure of the Kodiak commercial fishing fleet. The lushly carpeted lobby and breathtaking scenery were meant to impress visitors and inspire donations. I’m not sure impressed visitors would feel the marine center needed a donation, but that was not my department. As long as I had a job, I would not worry about the economical side of operating this showpiece facility.
My office was located down a long corridor on the parking lot level of the building. Laboratories and a small fish-processing plant occupied the lower level. I unlocked my office door, flipped on the fluorescent light, and sunk down into the swivel chair in front of my desk. I pulled Craig’s personnel file from my desk drawer, stared at the desk telephone a moment, and then pushed my chair forward.
I placed the heart-wrenching call to Craig’s parents. Craig’s father answered the phone, and when I told him who I was, and why I was calling, he said nothing and handed the phone to his wife. She remained calm, but didn’t seem to believe me. When I hung up the receiver a few minutes later, I wasn’t sure I had convinced them that their son was dead. I was afraid they thought I was a prank caller, but I didn’t know what else I could do. How could I expect them to believe Craig was dead? I couldn’t believe it myself, and I had seen the wreckage. They would not even be able to look at his body and tell him goodbye. I remembered the pale flesh in the brown leather shoe, and bile rose in my mouth.
My fingers still were gripping the receiver when the phone buzzed. I jerked my hand away and then eased it back to the smooth plastic. I expected to hear the voice of one of Craig’s parents, calling to confirm my identity.
“Marcus,” I answered.
“Dr. Marcus,” a deep voice said. “I am Alaska State Trooper James Hostler. I understand that you have an assistant by the name of Craig Pederson.”
“I regret to inform you that we believe Mr. Pederson was killed this afternoon in an airplane-related accident.”
“Yes, I know. I was in the plane with Steve Duncan when we found the wreckage.”
Trooper Hostler was quiet for a moment, undoubtedly rereading the information he had been given. “I see.” He recovered nicely. “Have you contacted his nearest kin?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure they believed me. Perhaps you should also call them.” I recited the Pedersons’ telephone number to the trooper, and he was just about to hang up, when I asked, “Are the troopers at the crash site yet?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t comment on the investigation.”
Hostler paused. “Yes ma’am. Several troopers and an FAA representative have flown out to look at the wreckage.”
I sighed. I felt a measure of relief knowing that professionals were handling the details of the disaster. I needed to call Peter Wayan, the director of the marine center, and tell him about Craig. Then, I planned go home and take a long, hot bath.
Doctor Wayan answered his phone on the third ring. My relationship with Wayan was formal. He treated me with respect but kept his distance, as he did with everyone who worked at the marine center. We were his colleagues, not his friends.
Wayan responded with alarm when I told him the news, but once he decided the marine center was not liable, he clicked his tongue and uttered condolences. I didn’t inform him that the marine center’s fuel may have caused the explosion; we would cross that bridge when we came to it.
I grabbed my purse and briefcase, turned out my office light, and locked the door. I drove out Spruce Cape Road and pulled into the parking lot of my condominium complex. Six young girls were skating in the lot, giggling and all talking at once. Their gaiety made me sadder.
My two-bedroom condominium with a partially-obstructed view of the ocean never had seemed so bleak. I stumbled into the bathroom and ran hot water into the tub. I peeled off my clothes and sank into the steaming water. I don’t know how long I sat there, but when I climbed out of the tub, the water was cold. I climbed into my bed and wished I’d never have to get out. Staying home alone would be even worse, though. Somehow, I had to find the strength to carry on. I would never shake the belief that I had sent Craig to his death, but I had to get past it and find a way to deal with my guilt.
Grief hung in the air as I walked down the hall of the marine center the following morning. Craig had been popular with the staff, joking with everyone from the janitor to the director. I walked into the main office to check my messages and fought back a sob when I saw the tear-stained faces of the two middle-aged secretaries. Glenda, a plump, short, dark-haired woman stood, walked around her desk, and held out her arms to me. I wanted to bolt out the door, but I forced myself to stand still and be consoled.
“So sad, dear,” Glenda said and patted my back.
I dared not speak, and I blinked as two tears snaked their way down my cheeks.
Glenda released me and looked at my face. “And I hear you found the wreckage.”
“News travels fast.” My voice sounded breathy and high. I glanced at Betty, a petite, grey-haired woman who sat in her chair with her palms flat on the desk top. I wasn’t certain if I imagined her look of disapproval. She was usually more restrained and less affectionate than Glenda, but now she looked as if she were judging me. I wanted to blurt that yes, I should have been on that plane instead of Craig. I should have been the one who evaporated, my life wiped away as if I never had existed.
The room began to look dark and far away. I struggled to breathe, and I heard Glenda’s voice call to me from a distance. “Are you okay, dear? You look pale. Maybe you should sit down.”
I held onto the wall for support as I pulled myself toward the doorframe. Once in the hallway, I kept my hand on the wall and shuffled toward my office. I passed someone who said something to me, but I couldn’t respond. Sweat dripped from my face and black swirls danced in front of my eyes. I had fainted only once before, during my miscarriage, but I remembered the sensation that had preceded that event, and I feared I was about to end up in a heap on the hall floor.
I reached my office door and tried to find the key ring in my purse. As soon as I looked down, everything went black. I pushed my back to the wall and slid to the floor. I don’t think I lost consciousness. I bent my knees to my chest and rested my head on them. I hoped no one would walk by and see me.
Slowly, the heat subsided, and my face began to cool. My head pounded, but when I lifted it from my knees, I was relieved to see my foggy vision had cleared. My body felt spent, and I didn’t think my legs would support me. The corridor was empty, so I decided to sit a few minutes longer.
What was wrong with me? Was I sick? I’d had my share of trauma, and I never before had responded to it by fainting. Maybe this was a symptom of guilt. How could I move beyond this terrible feeling? What could I do to ease my burden of responsibility for Craig’s death? Maybe if I knew what had caused the explosion, I would find some consolation. I could call Steve Duncan at Kodiak Air Services and see if he had any new information.
My plan of action gave me strength. My knees vibrated as I stood, but I managed to find my keys and let myself into my office. I opened a warm bottle of water and washed down two aspirin. Then, I scooted the chair to my desk, pulled the phone in front of me, and dialed the number for Kodiak Flight Services.
The dispatcher answered the phone, and I asked for Steve. There was a long pause, and then a deep voice said, “Hello, Dr. Marcus.”
“Hi Steve. Have you heard anything about the crash?”
“Two FAA inspectors and the troopers are out there now. I was planning to call and warn you that they’ll want to interview you sometime today.”
“We were the first two on the scene of the crash. I think they want to know what you saw and make sure you didn’t touch or move anything. They may also want to ask you about Craig’s gear.”
I paused for a moment. “I can’t lie about it, Steve.”
“I don’t want you to lie, but please don’t tell them what I said or volunteer any information.”
“I won’t say anything to get Kodiak Flight Services in trouble, but I want the FAA to get to the bottom of this. I need to know why that plane exploded.”
“We may never know,” Steve said.
“I hope you’re wrong.”
I hung up the phone and slumped in the padded chair. I stared at the walls of my office, and my eyes settled on the large tide calendar to the left of my desk. I had to get my mind off Craig and the plane crash and focus on work. That was the only way I would get through this mess. I needed to collect samples to replace those lost in the plane crash. I stood and peered closer at the calendar.
The calendar was printed with the tidal fluctuations for the Kodiak District. Uyak Bay, where the lady had died from PSP, had tides that correlated with the Seldovia district. I’d written in the Seldovia fluctuations for the months of June and July.
The times and intensities of the tides changed daily. To collect the clam samples, I needed at least two days of extreme low tides. Today was June twenty-sixth; the next series of minus tides began on July fourth. The marine center had planned a Fourth of July picnic, but I wasn’t in a partying mood. I could fly to Uyak on the third and camp for three days.
Maybe I would stop by Mr. Cycek’s cabin and explain why it was taking so long to get the test results on the population of clams that had killed his wife. I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t know about the plane crash, but I’d heard he lived the life of a hermit. I had only met the man once, at the hospital after his wife, Doris, had been pronounced dead. He had been devastated by the loss of his wife, and when I explained that we would test the clams from the beach where he and Doris had dug the poisonous bivalves, he offered his assistance and even reluctantly suggested that we stay with him.
I knew from talking to Craig on the radio that Mr. Cycek had been helpful and interested in our work. Craig had said that Mr. Cycek was lonely and talked about little other than his wife’s death. It was unfair to keep the man waiting and wondering about the results of our test. I was certain Doris had died from PSP, but only the presence of saxitoxin in clams from the beach where she had been digging would confirm the diagnosis
Saxitoxin, the compound that causes PSP, is one of the most lethal poisons known to man. A nerve agent one-thousand times more potent than cyanide, it paralyzes its victims, much like curare. Saxitoxin is produced by a marine dinoflagellate, a type of algae. Bivalves, such as mussels and clams, ingest the poisonous algae along with their usual fare of nonpoisonous plankton. The poisonous dinoflagellates do not harm the bivalves, but the shellfish concentrate the poison, and when humans dine on these bivalves, they suffer the effects of the accumulated toxin.
A human may begin to feel the effects of PSP as soon as five minutes after eating toxic shellfish. The first symptom is usually a tingling or numbness around the lips, gums, and tongue. In a mild case of poisoning, the tingling may spread to the face and neck. The victim also may feel a prickly sensation in the fingertips and toes and suffer from a headache, dizziness, and nausea. These are the only symptoms most people feel.
In moderate cases of poisoning, the victim’s speech becomes incoherent, and the prickly sensation spreads to the arms and legs, causing stiffness and a loss of coordination in the limbs. The victim feels lightheaded, has a rapid pulse, and may have trouble breathing.
If the poisoning is serious, the victim will suffer muscular paralysis, a choking sensation, and severe respiratory difficulty. Unless ventilatory support is available, the victim probably will die.
A mouse bioassay is the only currently-approved method to test bivalves for the presence of saxitoxin. This test involves feeding extracts of the suspected shellfish to mice and then watching the mice to see if they die. This procedure leaves much to be desired. Not only is it labor-intensive, but it is non-specific for saxitoxin and only can be performed in a certified biological laboratory. Only one lab performs this test in the state of Alaska, and no monitored PSP-tested beaches exist in the state.
Unfortunately, even though everyone realizes the risk, many people continue to eat shellfish. Most residents of Kodiak follow certain legends or taboos that have been passed down from their ancestors or from the Alutiiq Natives: Don’t eat bivalves in months without Rs or during a red tide. These taboos help, because the dinoflagellate responsible for PSP does bloom in the early summer, and a large bloom often produces a blood-red color in the water.
However, other algae also produce a dark-red color when they bloom, and the deadly dinoflagellate can be present when there is no change in the color of the water. Also, some bivalves, such as the butter clam, can hold the toxin in its tissues for as long as a year. Additionally, deadly cysts produced by sexual reproduction of the dinoflagellates are even present in the winter and may be ingested by bivalves during the coldest months of the year, all of which have Rs in their names.
At no time is one safe from PSP, and for some reason, Kodiak Island is one of the most dangerous places in the state for the toxin. These facts prompted Dr. Wayan to apply for a grant to develop an accurate, fast, inexpensive chemical assay to detect the presence of saxitoxin. While experimental chemical assays have been developed, none has been tested thoroughly or approved for monitoring purposes.
I am a biologist, not a chemist, but the position at the marine center interested me, mainly because it was in Kodiak, a town that had enchanted me when I’d visited it a year earlier. The position also happened to become available just as my job at the genetics lab at the University of Arizona was ending. I had hoped to find another genetics position, but was dismayed by the surplus of brilliant geneticists and the scarcity of jobs. I knew that I didn’t stand a chance in that marketplace. Since I have a Ph.D. in fishery biology, I thought this job might lead to something in my field. I find the problem of PSP interesting, but chemistry is not my forte.
Why Dr. Wayan hired someone with my credentials for this study, is a mystery I never may unravel. I know that Dr. Cenau, the director of the genetics lab in Tucson, gave me a great reference. She felt guilty about cutting my position, and she wanted to do everything she could to help me land a new job. I also believe the marine center has trouble attracting chemists to Kodiak. This isn’t an intellectual mecca, and while the location provides many opportunities for scientists interested in the ocean, most chemists can find jobs at better chemical laboratories.
I am lucky to work with a group of brilliant graduate students, and I am certain that I have learned more from them than they have from me. In addition to the research project, I teach classes in physiology and marine biology, and the fact that I am one of the few people on the staff with a strong background in biology may be another reason I was chosen for this position.
The primary mission of the marine center is to provide research and developmental support to Alaska’s seafood industry. Experimental projects range from producing good-tasting foods packed with high-protein fish meal to finding a way to neutralize the enzyme that causes arrow tooth flounder to fall apart when the fish is cooked. In addition to the laboratories and the small fish processing plant on the lower level, the center has a test kitchen to evaluate new seafood items before they are sold commercially. As with any good scientific laboratory, the projects are endless, but the funding isn’t.
I think of my work as a short-term project, and I don’t expect my funding to last long. In addition to developing a chemical assay, I am assisting a Nova Scotia microbiology company to evaluate and refine their cell-based test for PSP, and in many ways, I like their test better than ours. It is cheap and easy, and even though it doesn’t provide as much data as a chemical assay, if their test proves to be accurate, I think it and not ours will become the test of the future. The main problem their test has at this point is that it often produces false positives. I get positive results nearly every time I use it, even when a comparative mouse bioassay turns out negative.
If they can solve this problem, though, they will have an inexpensive, portable test kit that is simple enough to be used by a layman. A guy can dig a bucket of clams, use his cell-based pocket kit, and an hour later, know if the clams are safe to eat. Our test is expensive and complex and must be performed in a well-equipped laboratory by highly-paid technicians and scientists. So far, though, our test produces much more accurate results.
By helping the Canadian company refine their test kit, I am cutting my own throat. I don’t think state legislators will find it in their hearts to give me more money to work on PSP if an accurate detection test is already on the market. After all, this is the same state that didn’t splurge for oil-containment equipment until after the Exxon Valdez disaster. On the other hand, it is also a state rich with oil money, and from what I’ve seen, there is no rhyme or reason as to how that is spent. If the right politician in Juneau decides this is a worthy project, we might be able to fund this venture for years. I’m along for the ride, always watching and listening for new job openings.
My desk clock buzzed its 10:00 warning, and I shook my head to clear it. What day is it? I stared at the calendar, until I recalled it was Thursday. I taught a 10:00 class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I didn’t have anything today. I should clean up the lab. I’d prepared it to run Craig’s samples, and I would have to put away the chemicals and equipment. I couldn’t face the graduate students this morning, though. Perhaps I would sneak down there during the lunch hour.
I turned my attention to the stack of paperwork on my desk but accomplished little. At 11:30, my telephone buzzed and Betty announced that an FAA inspector was waiting in the main office to talk to me.
“Send him to my office,” I said. I unlocked and opened the door and set a chair in front of my desk. I was just returning to my chair when a sharp knock rattled the doorframe.
“Hello. Come in.”
The tall man bent his head and walked through the doorway. He would have cleared the seven-foot frame by several inches even without this maneuver, but I suspected he did it out of habit.
He walked across my office, shifted the paper sack he was carrying from his right to his left hand, and shoved his long, thin right hand toward me. “Dr. Marcus, I’m Frank Hayman with the FAA.”
I shook the dry palm, wishing my own hand didn’t feel so sweaty. “Please, sit down.” I gestured toward the chair in front of my desk.
He folded his long body onto the seat and sat quietly for a moment, staring at my face. His thin black hair was combed straight back from his forehead, enhancing his prominent nose. The nose provided a solid base for his wire-rimmed glasses, and from behind these glasses, his brown eyes studied me, shifting their focus from my left to my right eye and then back to my left again. I imagined he could read the guilt in my eyes and was trying to decide how he should question me. What did I know about the plane crash, and how could he extract that information?
I waited with my hands folded in my lap. I willed myself to breathe evenly and to hold Hayman’s gaze. I hoped he could not see the beads of perspiration that were forming on my forehead.
Finally, he spoke. “Dr. Marcus, as I’m sure you have guessed, I am investigating the loss of Kodiak Air Services’ Beaver. I spoke with Steve Duncan, and he told me that you were with him when he discovered the wreckage.”
Hayman paused, so I answered. “That’s right.”
“Can you tell me what you saw?”
“Not much, just twisted pieces of metal.”
“Did you find any human remains?”
I paused, and as the image of the singed flesh in the shoe filled my mind, the world started to go black again. “Yes,” my voice was weak, “a shoe with part of a foot in it.”
“Did you touch the shoe or anything else?”
Hayman sighed and said nothing. He watched me, and I knew I must look terrible.
“Could you identify anyone?” The question came out as a whisper, but Hayman heard me.
“There was more left from the crash than you might think. The underbrush was heavy, and once we cleared it away, we found enough remains to identify the pilot and three of the passengers.” Hayman paused. “That’s one of the reasons I want to talk to you.
He lifted the paper sack from the floor and withdrew a piece of purple and green nylon material from it. “Does this material look familiar to you?”
The saliva drained from my mouth. “Yes. It’s part of Craig’s jacket.”
“I think we can confirm his identity then.”
“That’s all you need?”
“That’s all we’re going to get.” His eyes held mine until I looked away.
“Do you know yet what caused the crash?” I phrased my question carefully, making sure to say crash instead of explosion.
Hayman didn’t answer. Instead, he asked, “Was Mr. Pederson carrying any explosive materials?”
I felt my cheeks grow hot. “Do you mean fuels or batteries?”
“Why don’t you tell me what gear he had?”
I stared at my desk. “Personal gear: A tent, shovels, cooler, dry ice, a three-burner stove, a Coleman lantern.” I closed my eyes as if thinking about the gear, even though I knew exactly what camping supplies Craig had packed. “Radio, antenna, Blazo, propane, and a twelve-volt battery.” I continued to stare at my desk as I said the last three items.
When Hayman didn’t respond, I looked into his dark eyes. “Do you think the fuels caused an explosion?” I had to ask. Hayman was no fool. If he believed the plane had exploded, hazardous materials would be the first thing he would check.
“That’s certainly a possibility.” He spoke slowly. “However, Mr. Duncan felt certain that the pilot would have loaded the fuels in the floats, not in the cabin with the passengers. What do you think?”
I felt like a bug under a magnifying glass as Hayman studied me. “I’ve never flown with that pilot before,” I said, “but the other pilots have always loaded the fuels in the floats.” What could I do? I didn’t want to say anything to damage Kodiak Air Services’ reputation, but Hayman had asked me a direct question, and I wasn’t going to lie.
“If that’s the case, then the fuels did not cause the explosion.”
“Really?” I sat straight and didn’t try to conceal the surprise I felt.
“The explosion originated in the rear section of the cabin. We’re certain of that, because that is the most damaged portion of the plane.” Hayman shrugged. “To be more precise, we can’t find any pieces of the rear section of the cabin. It seems to have evaporated.”
“How could you tell? I didn’t see much of any portion of the plane.”
“We found the wings and large pieces of both floats. If an explosion of the caliber that destroyed this plane originated in the floats, at least one of the floats would be gone, blown to bits.”
My mind struggled to sort through this new information. I had been so certain that the gas and battery had caused the explosion that I had not thought of an alternative explanation. “Do you think someone planted a bomb?” The idea was ludicrous. This was not a flight from JFK to Cairo. Terrorism was not a major threat on Kodiak Island.
“I don’t know, ma’am,” Hayman said, “but the FBI thinks it’s a possibility. Their bomb specialists arrive tomorrow.”