Tracy Knizek and Greg Williams boarded the squid boat Meridian at Channel Islands Harbor on Wednesday, a sister and brother on a bittersweet mission.
It was a year to the day since their parents died in the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261. A year since the crew of this 32-foot boat joined a hopeless rescue effort eight miles off the coast, fishing up one small treasure in so much ruin: their father's prized Masonic ring.
Knizek and her brother had been waiting since then to see the niche in the boat's hatch where the heavy gold band with three red stones was discovered a day after the rest of the wreckage on board was turned over to investigators.
Just as much, they'd been waiting to meet the boat's owner, Scott Jarvis, and his wife, Mary. Determined to reunite the ring with its heirs as quickly as possible, the Oxnard couple had undertaken a major research effort. Calling on the help of Masons from here to Seattle, they tracked down Knizek.
When authorities demanded that the Jarvises hand over the ring, they refused, risking arrest to get it on a plane to Knizek before it got wrapped up in the bureaucracy of a crash investigation.
If there is a silver lining to the death of Bob and Patty Williams, 65 and 63, of Poulsbo, Wash., it is the bond formed during the months of telephone calls between the Williamses' children and these strangers who were their last link.
"It seems like we've been talking with old friends," said Greg Williams, 44, as he and his 40-year-old sister chatted on the Jarvises' boat. "It's a pretty special connection. This is something that makes a terrible thing just a little better."
Mary Jarvis, 36, nodded. "I almost forget for a few minutes why they're here," she said. "We've just been sitting here having fun. And then I remember."
They met for the first time Tuesday, grabbing lunch at a nearby Carrows.
Wednesday morning, Knizek and Williams had planned to take a chartered boat out to the crash site, one of the tours offered to all 850 relatives and friends of the crash victims who traveled here this week for its anniversary.
When rough seas canceled their plans, Knizek, Williams and other relatives mourning with them headed instead to the Meridian.
Knizek and her brother also invited the Jarvises to attend an afternoon memorial service at Point Mugu and have dinner with them before they left town. And since they didn't get to visit the crash site, they said they hope to return soon--perhaps this summer--and ferry out on the Meridian.
The more time Knizek and Williams spent with the Jarvises, the more they shared. Williams, a solar power contractor who has a pilot's license himself, told Scott, 38, and Mary how his father had flown reconnaissance missions in the Vietnam War.
"He flew thousands of hours in jet planes," he said. "In my eyes, the last hour of that flight, he knew he didn't have a lot of time left before he met his maker."
That prompted Knizek to share her theory about how the heavy gold ring managed to float long enough to be recovered by a fishing net. She believes her father knew that no one would survive and tucked the ring into a buoyant seat cushion on the plane's descent, to make sure it would be found.
That the ring was found is "definitely the work of God," Knizek said.
Williams is now the keeper of the ring, which his father had set aside for him in his will. He said he thinks his dad wanted to send a message: "That he's in a better place and we shouldn't worry too much."
For Mary Jarvis' nephew, Kevin Marquiss, a 22-year-old commercial fisherman who works on the Meridian and discovered the ring, there is comfort in the idea of parents sending messages from beyond. Marquiss' mother died when he was 10. Finding Bob Williams' ring reaffirmed Marquiss' feelings that his mother might be watching over him as well.
And being able to deliver the message, if that's what it was, gave Marquiss a sense of accomplishment he says he may never match. "If I don't do anything else in my life, I've got something where I can look back and say, 'I'm proud of what I've done.' It's a good feeling."