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2 Sisters Left With Anguish Over Family's Disappearance : Missing: Kathleen and Christina Harrison still hope that someone will find the aircraft carrying their parents and sibling.

January 03, 1994|BRENDA DAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Months after the disappearance of their parents and sister, Kathleen and Christina Harrison still alternate between hoping for a miracle and grieving over a tragedy.

That is what not knowing does, the Thousand Oaks sisters said. The mystery torments.

Kathleen, 24, and Christina, 25, have been left wondering since July 25 when the single-engine plane piloted by their father, Reed Harrison, failed to arrive at Camarillo Airport as scheduled from Utah. Their mother, Judy, and 18-year-old sister, Julie, were aboard.

"We haven't had a funeral service; there aren't graves to go visit," Christina said during a recent interview in the family's North Ranch home.

"There's not even anything to tell us they crashed; nothing has told us they're not alive," said Kathleen, pausing to add, "Except they're not here. It's like they vanished."

Despite more than two weeks of searching in four states by the Civil Air Patrol, no sign of the aircraft was ever found. But the sisters could not stop looking even after authorities halted the official hunt.

"I'm confident we will never entirely give up until we find them," said Kathleen, who works for an insurance brokerage firm in the Westlake area of Thousand Oaks.

Some pilots keep in contact with the sisters and continue to look for wreckage from the plane when they fly over the area between Camarillo and Roosevelt, Utah, Kathleen said.

The sisters said they hope that other fliers will similarly keep a lookout for the brown and beige Beechcraft Bonanza plane. They are now trying to arrange an airing of their story on the popular syndicated television show "Unsolved Mysteries," they said.

"We can't have any closure until we know what happened, and we don't know much more today than we did on the 25th of July," said Christina, a law student at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. "The only thing we know for sure is they left."

"And they never came home," Kathleen added.

The Harrison plane disappeared from radar screens after passing over a mountainous area near Price, Utah, about 60 miles southwest of Roosevelt, authorities said.

Only a few months ago, Kathleen said she satisfied her curiosity about the area by driving around there with Christina and scanning the landscape from the ridge tops.

"For a long time, we thought, 'Why can't they find them?' " Kathleen said. "Then we did some searching of our own, and it's so dense and so rugged. You understand once you go there."

Recently, they sent informational flyers to hunting license offices in Utah, hoping outdoorsmen would remember to look. But hunting season came and went without a word, Christina said.

"We really thought someone would find them," she said.

In the weeks after the plane's disappearance, friends and family rallied around Kathleen and Christina. The sisters also received cards and letters from strangers who wrote that Reed, Judy or Julie had touched their lives, they said.

An 80-year-old woman wrote that Reed, an attorney and former Thousand Oaks planning commissioner, had been checking up on her regularly since the recent death of her husband. Judy, a counselor at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, had brought her meals, the woman wrote to the sisters.

Friends of Julie, who was last year's senior class president at Westlake High School, helped hand out leaflets seeking information about the missing family, the sisters said.

"It's comforting to know there are so many people out there who care," Christina said.

The sisters called press conferences to keep the item in the news and handed out "missing" flyers to hikers in desert and mountain areas of southern Nevada.

Their spirits rose and fell as the days passed. At one point, they got word that the plane had been found with no survivors. It turned out to be a different crash, which had occurred nine years earlier.

Finally, the search was called off after volunteer Civil Air Patrol pilots looked for 18 days without finding a clue. The sisters thought that it was too soon to stop. They feared the worst: that their family had survived a crash, but would die waiting for help.

"What if we find them and they had made a camp and they starved to death?" Kathleen said, fighting back tears.

"The not knowing is horrible," Christina said.

When the U.S. Air Force calls off a Civil Air Patrol search without results, it's one of the hardest messages to deliver to a family, said Pat Morley, a Woodland Hills resident who helped look for the family.

"I think it's even harder than saying, 'We found them but they're not alive,' " Morley said, "because it still leaves the family up in the air."

Reed Harrison did not file a flight plan detailing the route he would take home that day, said retired U. S. Army Lt. Col. Bob Fowler, a Civil Air Patrol spokesman. That is not unusual, but it made the search more difficult, Fowler said.

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