Last Runby Todd Lewan
It was a desperate mission that made front-page headlines and captured the attention of millions of readers around the world. In January 1998, in the dead of an Alaskan winter, a cataclysmic Arctic storm with hurricane-force winds and towering seas forced five fishermen to abandon their vessel in the Gulf of Alaska and left them adrift in thirty-eight-degree water
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It was a desperate mission that made front-page headlines and captured the attention of millions of readers around the world. In January 1998, in the dead of an Alaskan winter, a cataclysmic Arctic storm with hurricane-force winds and towering seas forced five fishermen to abandon their vessel in the Gulf of Alaska and left them adrift in thirty-eight-degree water with no lifeboat. Their would-be rescuers were 150 miles away at the Coast Guard station, with the nearby airport shut down by an avalanche.
The Last Run is the epic tale of the wreck of the oldest registered fishing schooner in Alaska, a hellish Arctic tempest, and the three teams of aviators in helicopters who withstood 140-mph gusts and hovered alongside waves that were ten stories high. But what makes this more than a true-life page-turner is its portrait of untamed Alaska and the unflappable spirit of people who forge a different kind of life on America's last frontier, the "end of the roaders" who are drawn to, or flee to, Alaska to seek a final destiny.
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The Last RunA True Story of Rescue and Redemption on the Alaska Seas
By Lewan, Todd
HarperCollins PublishersISBN: 0060196483
The body came in with no eyes or ears. There was no nose, either. No chin, no teeth -- not a single, distinguishing facial mark. There was, in fact, nothing to work with from the neck up, except for a few strands of brittle, soiled hair.
"This is all?"
"Where did the kids find him?"
"In a bear den."
"What the hell were they doing in a bear den?"
It was chilly in the room. The air-conditioning might have been set too high. The air hung stagnant and smelled faintly of ammonia. Under the hard, fluorescent lamplight, the weathered bits of what once had been a man looked insignificant in repose.
The investigator rubbed the gooseflesh on his arms. "Well," he muttered, "let's get this show going."
"All right," the pathologist said. "Where's that recorder?"
The pathologist leaned over the examining table. He wore thick glasses over red-rimmed, blue eyes; a white mask covered his mouth and nose. He had long, bony fingers gloved in latex. He pressed the record button.
For the record he gave his name, Dr. Michael Propst, the date, August 14, 1998, the time, 2:14 P.M. He cleared his throat and began describing what he saw. There was noteworthy biological material. Specifically, bone fragments, hair and skin. The bone fragments showed predationa large bear, most likely, judging by the depth of the marks. The bones, from an arm, a rib cage, a leg, appeared to be human. So did several of the hairs, although some of it had likely once belonged to a deer or a seal. There were fragments of a neoprene wet suit, also very much predated, among them a sleeve, a right mitten, a trouser leg and a large section of the upper chest. And there was clothing: two white socks, briefs, a T-shirt, sweatpants and a Casio watchband.
The box, he went on, also contained a fair amount of dirt, spruce needles and other organic debris from the crime scene. He paused the tape.
"They bagged this stuff in a hurry," Propst said. "Can't say I blame them."
"Anything else?" the investigator asked.
Recording again, Propst made note of five skin fragments. Some had decomposed more than others. One had had a fingernail still attached to it. The nail, he said, was most likely human.
He stopped the tape and pulled down his mask.
"Man didn't clean under his nails."
"No. What else we got?"
Now the investigator, whose name was David Hanson, leaned over the table. On the chest of the suit was an emblem, a penguin, and the brand name IMPERIAL stitched across it.
"The manufacturer," Hanson said.
Hanson ran his forefinger along the inside of the collar and pulled out a tag. On it was a serial number, a lot number and a date of manufacture: March 23, 1989.
"Not new," he said.
"And still wet," Hanson said. The material had a loamy smell, like decaying wood chips. "Hang all this stuff in the back room," he said to the lab assistant. "Let it dry out."
As the assistant collected the shreds, Hanson worked his lip with his teeth. He was wearing his navy blue suit, with starched white shirt, tie and black leather shoes. He was neat, clean, shaved and stern. He'd been a cop six years but a member of the Anchorage crime unit just twenty-two days. He was twenty-eight and this was his first case. It would be nice to get it to go somewhere besides a missing persons file cabinet.
"Is this really all we've got?"
"There is the skin," Propst said.
Of the five skin fragments the biggest was no larger than a dime. Three others were brittle, yellow, and the last two as sturdy as wet newspaper.
Hanson squinted at them.
Propst scratched a fleshy jowl. "Well," he said, "they're human. Remember, they came from inside a survival suit."
"If the fingerprint lab could make prints from these fragments, then you could check the prints against what's on file."
"And you think we could make prints from these little things?"
Propst snapped off the latex gloves. "Ask Walter MacFarlane that."
Walter MacFarlane laughed a smoker's laugh, coughed a smoker's cough and then smiled. A big, Savannah smile.
"You've got to be kidding," he drawled.
Hanson smiled back. "No."
MacFarlane's smile soured. He sighed. "All right, what am I supposed to do with this?"
"Make prints," Hanson said. "Or a print. Then ID it."
MacFarlane reached for the magnifying glass. "What makes you think these came from fingertips?" He was examining the fragments now.
MacFarlane motioned to his apprentice, Dale Bivins. Bivins was short, with dark hair buzzed to the scalp, a prickly complexion and the eager eyes of a freshman on his way to his first college football game. He'd been at the crime lab almost a whole week.
"Say, Dale," MacFarlane said, "why don't you take a look at some real old, real dried-out, real decomposed skin?" He removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes with his palm and took a step back.
"David," he said, "you're asking me to ID a guy who's got enough skin left over to fill half a matchbox. Normally, that might be tricky. In this case, it'd be like winning the lottery. Look at this skin. As soon as we touch it, it's going to crumble like a cheap cookie."
Propst said, "Walter?"
"Did you see this fragment?"
MacFarlane put his glasses back on and squinted at the specimen on the table. "I did."
"Could you work with it?"
MacFarlane paused. He was trying to figure out if Propst was kidding. No, obviously not. MacFarlane shook his head.
"All right," he said. "Send it on over. I'll give it a shot. But this one here's a million-to-one horse."
"No promises, now," MacFarlane said.
"No promises," said Hanson.Continues...
Excerpted from The Last Run by Lewan, Todd Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Todd Lewan joined the Associated Press as a correspondent in 1988. In 1996 he became an editor on AP's international desk, and later a national features writer. In 1998 he received several feature-writing prizes for this story.
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It was a well written adventure story that kept my interest. His characters were well developed and their stories were compelling.
As a search and rescue diver this story told like it really is when everything is on line. He didn't need to embelish this because Hollywood can't duplicate this kind of story.
I enjoyed this book very much. I felt like I was there with them through the whole experience.
Enjoyed this read and tale of heroics especially since I visited several towns mentioned and saw the waters and weather first hand
As a sailor myself. I found the story to be realist and all too familiar! Some times sailors take risks, that in retrospect, prove to be unecessary and down right irresponsible. This was one of those chilling stories that makes you recall previous adventures and make you feel glad you are reading in bed. I couldn't put it down. Way to go Mr Lewan. Great story, well told!