I am not the same
1995 should have been a year to relish. My wife and I were starting a circumnavigation of the world aboard our 42-foot sloop Osprey. As with many dreams the implementation of our plan relied on a heavy dose of reality therapy. I sold my dental practice and PL left her counseling job. Cars changed hands, furniture was stored and the house was rented. Our son and daughter were college educated and following their own personal journeys. With a good deal of fanfare we said goodbye to family and friends. PL and I felt confident and bulletproof as we sailed from Seattle and into the first chapter of our new life. Less than six months later we would dejectedly return to Seattle to face the most shocking scenario a parent can imagine. Our son Tyler was missing. Tyler and his girlfriend Ashley were in the midst of a three-month backpacking trip around the world, but they were overdue for their early September rendezvous with Ashley's aunt in Nepal. Our nerve endings started to tingle even though we had confidence in our son's ability to deal with the inevitable hassles of international travel. Concern grew into genuine worry when PL and I sailed into San Diego and learned that Tyler and Ashley were still missing. We flew back to Seattle in October to deal with the mysterious disappearance of our son and his companion. Osprey and our cruising dreams were put on indefinite hold in San Diego.
In late October Tyler and Ashley failed to board their scheduled flight back to Seattle. Ashley's father and I decided to fly to India to personally organize a search for our missing children. In a distant mountain village in northern India, I discovered the backpacker hotel where the kids had stayed and the bank where my son had cashed a traveler's check. We found no further trace of Tyler and Ashley. Even with diplomatic contacts at the US Embassy and the India Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi, we dejectedly returned to Seattle a few weeks later with little good news to report. The onslaught of winter weather in the Indian Himalayas was not far away so a critical decision had to be made. Our families feared kidnapping or foul play far more than the siren song of ashram cults. We needed professional help. Kroll Associates, one of the largest investigative agencies in the world, was hired to organize an international search for our lost children. The Ashley Palumbo and Tyler Mondloch Search Committee was also established in Seattle. Donations from concerned family and friends helped to fund the massive search. The Kroll investigation was an excruciating four-month ordeal that exacted monumental costs economically, spiritually, and physically. The love and generosity of hundreds of supporters helped us through those agonizing months.
On January 9, 1996 an overseas phone call delivered devastating news. Our families received notification that Ashley Palumbo and Tyler Mondloch lost their lives on September 4, 1995 while trekking in the Himalaya Mountains of Northern India. Kroll Associates confirmed that Ashley and Tyler checked out of a small hotel in the village of Chatru on the tragic day and began the hike back toward the town of Manali. A shepherd confirmed seeing two backpackers, a tall Caucasian man and a short Caucasian woman, attempting to cross a flooded tributary of the Chantra River. The monsoon-swollen river was tearing a path of destruction and carnage as it swept down the mountains and through the rural villages. Both kids were carrying all their gear-their packs were heavy and the high mountain weather was miserable.
Tyler successfully waded through the treacherous glacial river and waited for Ashley on the far side. As Ashley attempted to follow Tyler's lead, she fell into the icy water. Tyler leaped back into the raging current attempting to save her. The force of the rushing water swept both of them off their feet and carried them away. Their bodies have never been recovered.
A memorial service for Ashley and Tyler was held on January 17, 1996 at Saint Mark's Cathedral in Seattle. The cathedral overflowed with wonderful people paying tribute to Tyler and Ashley. Our daughter had lost her brother, we had lost our son, and our dreams were shattered.
The loss of a child can obliterate the parents' relationship and destroy their lives. PL and I struggled through the dark times and eventually emerged into the daylight together. We still grieve for Tyler, but time has soothed some of the pain and we are at peace. We completed our six-year circumnavigation of the world, but we returned home very different people. Flight of the Osprey is a story about those times
Copyright © 2005 Kurt Mondloch. All rights reserved.