“The Alaska state patrol has taken control of the crash scene, pending handover to the NTSB for the federal investigation. They have it cordoned it off to prevent animal scavengers and ‘lookie-loos’ from compromising the scene. The debris field is mostly flat and nearly a half mile long. Luckily, the heavy snow and ice extinguished most of the fire. Emergency crews air-dropped in this morning and are sifting through the wreckage but at this time, it appears there are no survivors.”
“Good work, Harris. Do they have any idea what it was?”
“Judging from the size of that mangled turbine housing over there, I’d say it was a large passenger plane. Perhaps even a jumbo jet. The sheer area and volume of wreckage would indicate at least a DC10 or 727. Excuse me a minute sir, I’ve got to stop those two reporters from trampling the accident scene.”
“How did they even get here? Mush dogs? We’re at the edge of a damn glacier, for Christ-sake. This area is so remote that I didn’t think commercial airliners even flew this far north.”; The sheriff shouted at his deputy, as he ran to chase off the tenacious photographers.
Once the NTSB (and its Canadian counterpart, the TSB) took charge of the crash site, they ironed-out an official agreement to share resources and findings. Any time there is jurisdictional cooperation between two international agencies, there can be friction and resistance to information sharing. Both organizations wanted a smooth, transparent investigation with detailed answers so it benefited them to work together. With any luck, they could recover the black boxes and voice data recorders for a clearer picture of what transpired in the final moments of Flight 28 out of Vancouver.
Rescue crews combed through the rubble for survivors but as the day went on, it became more of an effort to collect human remains and body parts. No one expected what came next. After clearing away piles of charred wreckage and disturbed ice sheets, a worker blew his whistle with urgency and got on the radio.
“Send an EMT over immediately! We need a medical kit! I’ve got a possible survivor in grid 16! I can’t find a pulse. Bring an oxygen tank and bandages. She’s slightly blue and unresponsive. I’m starting CPR compressions until the technicians gets here. The victim is an adult female with a few minor burns and superficial wounds. Her clothes must have been incinerated upon impact. She is likely suffering the advanced effects of hypothermia. If we can transport her to a first aid tent and raise her body temperature, we may be able to revive her. I am seeing some color returning to her cheeks! That’s a promising sign. Medical team, what’s your ETA for getting here?”
The EMT’s carried the victim on a stretcher to a tent and began oxygen treatment, while placing her in warming blankets. When her body temperature reached 96° she actually began to respond to treatment! Her pulse and heart rate were very weak but steady. Members of both the American and Canadian investigation team excitedly gathered around to witness her miraculous resuscitation.
“When can we speak to her, nurse? Getting an eyewitness account of the events that transpired is absolutely essential to solving this deadly crash. We have families that need answers. Only she can give them to us.”
“Need I remind you that this poor woman just endured a massive plane crash! Not only did she receive the trauma of colliding with the ground at 500 miles per hour, she actually died from extended exposure to frigid Arctic conditions! We just managed to bring her back to life and don’t even know if she will survive. Her oxygen supply was cut off to her brain for a long time. At this point, it’s all we can do to keep her alive so just back off, and let us do our jobs. If she regains consciousness and is able to speak, you’ll be the first one we call, ok?”
The NTSB official was taken aback by the nurse’s fierce tongue-lashing but nodded in understanding. His priority was gaining answers. Her’s was to preserve a life in peril. He was about to step away when she added: “I’m sorry if I came across harshly but the fact that this woman is alive, is a miracle of hard work and luck by our medical team. I don’t want to jeopardize her uphill recovery for something she may not even remember, ok? Maybe your team can find more survivors out there in the snow. Please focus on that while the clock is still ticking. What are the chances of there only being one survivor of a plane crash this size?”
Unfortunately, despite an exhaustive search through the strewn wreckage by investigators, there were no other survivors. More than 90% of the massive aircraft actually disintegrated upon impact with the hard tundra. The ‘black box’ modules were finally recovered and sent off for forensic analysis. Extracting the data from them was both painstaking and delicate work. There was a fair level of skepticism as to whether the analysis would yield any concrete answers but it was their hope.
Relatives of the deceased demanded answers. A full manifest of passengers and crew was delivered to the NTSB and Canadian team for DNA evaluation. Genetic samples were provided by family members to help identify the human remains. Then it was up to the lab to make a positive ID so they could have some level of closure. Strangely, both DNA and fingerprint scans of the mystery woman failed to identify her as any of the passengers or crew.
“Do you think it’s possible that she was a stowaway on the plane, sir? We haven’t been able to match her prints to any identification database. Either Langley, CODIS, CSIS or Interpol.”
“If she’s not anyone listed on the flight manifest, then she’d have to be a stowaway. The crash scene is a barren wilderness, twenty miles from the nearest town. There was no one around when it happened and there are no local missing persons reports. Whether she was somehow involved in causing the crash, or just a stowaway running away from personal problems is yet to be determined. All we know for sure is that she was in Vancouver four days ago and somehow managed to slip past security and board the plane. No one has stepped forward to identify her because apparently no one is looking for her. What does that tell us? We should see if the Canadian team checked the security footage at the airport. It may offer some clues about ‘Jane Doe’. How is our mystery patient doing, anyway? Do they think she will regain consciousness?”
“They had to amputate a couple of her toes and the tip of one earlobe from gangrene. The frostbite was too advanced to save them. Otherwise they think she’ll recover physically. As far as her mental state, they aren’t sure yet. If her heart was stopped for more than five minutes then she’ll be a vegetable for the rest of her life. Even if she regains consciousness, she may never have another lucid thought. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Two days later, ‘Jane’ came out of her coma. Almost immediately she had to be sedated because she tried to tear out her IV and run away. The investigators from both countries were quickly called in to question her but the first interview was fruitless. ‘Jane’ stripped off all her hospital clothes and started ranting in unintelligible nonsense. She displayed a wild-eyed look of bewilderment which forced the doctors to sedate her again.
The general consensus among the medical staff was that Jane Doe had apparently suffered a significant level of brain damage from extended hypoxia. Her puzzling actions and bizarre mannerisms suggested that her oxygen deprivation was too extensive to make personal communication ever possible. She babbled in an unknown language and seemed bewildered that the hospital staff didn’t understand her. Furthermore, her doctors noted that she failed to even recognize ordinary household things like light switches and door knobs. After being caught drinking from a toilet, Jane was placed in the hospital mental ward for her own safety.
After a few days, a noted behavioral therapist was flown in from Nome to evaluate her mental impairment. He tested her intelligence quotient using a series of innate, nonverbal queues. To everyone’s surprise, Jane tested in the average to slightly above, range. She possessed an educational penchant to learn new things very quickly. The crash investigators were initially puzzled at the results and assumed she was faking her strange behavior around them. The behaviorist took them aside and showed them a nature video of great primates in the wild.
The parallels were striking between the mannerisms of wild chimpanzees and their Jane Doe, but they were at a loss to understand his illusive point. At first they assumed their reluctant witness was mimicking the ape behavior to fool them. The psychologist began to lose his patience.
“Gentleman. You still aren’t grasping what I’m trying to get you to see. I assume that you ran her fingerprints though your identification databases. Did you find a match? Obviously she wouldn’t be named ‘Jane Doe’ if you knew her real identity, right?”
Several of them nodded in agreement but they still didn’t connect the dots.
“I bet DNA testing and surveillance of the Vancouver airport also lead to dead ends, correct?”
The reason why this unidentified woman doesn’t seem familiar with modern conveniences is because they are foreign to her. She never boarded that plane in Vancouver. She doesn’t know what a toilet is, or a light switch. She is completely unfamiliar with all modern languages. She isn’t the sole survivor of the plane crash. There were no survivors from flight 28. By astronomical coincidence, the plane crash just happened to uncover her prehistoric resting spot in the valley. She was probably caught in a sudden blizzard and froze to death almost immediately. She’s the sole survivor of the last ice age.”