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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Thoughts For Friends on A Trip I Missed

On Saturday morning, Moscow time, an Mi-8 helicopter slammed into the icy ground of the peninsula that lines the eastern shore of the Bering Strait, killing nine of its 22 passengers.

I was supposed to be aboard that helicopter. As it happened, the day before I was to depart I bowed out because vacationing staffers had left us shorthanded in the office.

The junket was organized so that journalists could cover the finale of an international expedition that crossed Russia's Far North from the Urals to the Bering Strait. On the day they left, I had spoken with many participants (mostly journalists from France, Switzerland and Russia). We became friends on a recent similar junket to Khatanga sponsored by Longines, and departed promising to meet again at Bering Strait.

Among the dead were people I had come to know quite well.

Roget Rossier, Longine's director of communications, was a burly man who wore flannel shirts and funny snow pants and looked not at all like the vice president of a button-down company. He had the ability, useful in Russia, to drink large quantities of vodka without showing effects - a talent which drew comments of admiration from several of the Russian journalists.

Rossier was particularly popular for his habit of giving out expensive Longines watches to anyone with an empty wrist. He shook his head sadly when he saw my scuba watch made by Citizen.

Later, Alexander Tolstobrov, who represents Longines in Moscow, advised me to do what Rossier would never have suggested: To put my Citizen in my pocket for the duration of the trip.

"It's very bad", said Tolstobrov, who survived the crash but is expected to remain in the hospital another two weeks recovering from injuries. "Your watch is Longine's biggest competitor".

Galina Grachev, a specialist in Russia's indigenous peoples, was the expedition favorite. A slight woman, soft spoken, with the sweet smile of a 16-year-old, she had spent more than 25 years living among far northern indigenous people during her field work.

In large groups she barely spoke. But one-on-one she could talk for hours about her findings. Several weeks ago in Khatanga, she and I huddled in a comer for the better part of an evening. I was impressed with the way she combined the compassion of a champion of indigenous peoples with the dispassion of a scientist laying out what she called, "a scenario of extinction". '

At a banquet the night before Grachev's departure, expedition members wept openly. She smiled meekly and, as usual, said nothing.

I intended to visit her office in St. Petersburg and write a profile. I felt no particular urgency, however. I could, I figured, do it anytime.