Roxanne and Clark Loper were homeward bound.
Nearly three weeks had passed since they left their ranch outside the small Texas town of Alto and embarked on a journey to adopt a two-year-old girl in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. It was a journey more than fifteen months in the planning and saw the young couple race through airports, bounce along bumpy roads, and wind their way across the Ural Mountains. They dealt with bureaucrats in three different countries and spent their life savings, all for the sake of a child whose picture Roxanne had seen one day on the Internet. Every minute, every dollar, was worth it, though, because now they had Alexandria, and by dinnertime they'd be home.
Over the last seventy-two hours, the three of them had flown from Kazakhstan to Moscow to Frankfurt and were now on the final leg of their trip, a direct flight from Frankfurt to Dallas. They all felt as if they hadn't slept in days. Shortly after takeoff, Alexandria climbed out of her seat and curled up on the floor to take a nap. Roxanne thought about picking her up and strapping her back into her seat, but she knew Alexandria liked sleeping on the floor. She felt comfortable there. It was something the child had grown accustomed to in the orphanage.
As the Lopers' plane, Lufthansa Flight 438, proceeded northwest out of Frankfurt and climbed to above 30,000 feet, Lufthansa Flight 400 began preboarding its first-class passengers. Settling into her seat, Frankfurt mayor Petra Roth was excited about her trip to New York. That night there would be a party in honor of New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Roth and Giuliani had become friends during official visits to each other's city, and Roth was happy to travel the 4,000 miles to pay her respects to the outgoing mayor.
Sitting near Roth was Werner Baldessarini, the chairman of Hugo Boss, who was flying to New York from the company's corporate headquarters in Germany for Fashion Week - an eight-day spectacle of clothes and models in which more than one hundred of the world's top designers show their latest wares in giant tents and on improvised runways. A good show at Fashion Week can guarantee the success of a manufacturer's collection. On Thursday evening, Baldessarini would premier Hugo Boss's Spring 2002 line at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. In addition to the financial implications of having a good show, this event was also important to Baldessarini for personal reasons. After twenty-seven years with Hugo Boss, he had made up his mind to retire in 2002. The news hadn't been leaked publicly, but this would be one of his last shows and he wanted it to be a success.
While a flight attendant offered Roth and Baldessarini a glass of champagne before takeoff in Frankfurt, a few hundred miles away in Dublin, George Vitale was taking his seat in coach aboard Continental Flight 23. As one of the people responsible for protecting New York governor George Pataki on a day-to-day basis, Vitale had flown to Ireland in early September to make advance security arrangements for the governor's visit there later that month. Unfortunately, a fresh round of violence in Northern Ireland caused the governor to abruptly cancel his trip, and the New York State trooper was told to come home.
If he had wanted to, Vitale could have stayed in Ireland to see friends and family. The forty-three-year-old is half Irish and he's made several trips over the years to the Emerald Isle. This wasn't a good time for a vacation, however. He had a number of responsibilities waiting for him at home in Brooklyn. In addition to being a senior investigator with the state police, Vitale was also taking night classes toward a degree in education. Assuming everything went smoothly, he'd be home in time for his class at Brooklyn College.
An hour after Vitale's flight ascended into the sky, Hannah O'Rourke stood outside the boarding area for Aer Lingus Flight 105 and cried as she hugged brothers and sisters good-bye. The sixty-six-year-old O'Rourke was born in Ireland's County Monaghan, about forty miles north of Dublin, but had emigrated to the United States nearly fifty years ago. She made a good life for herself in America. Along with her husband, Dennis, she raised three children and now lived on Long Island.
In recent years, she'd returned to Ireland as often as possible to see her family. This time around, she spent three weeks in the countryside with her husband. She hated saying good-bye to her kin, but her family in America was eager for her to come home. Waiting to board the plane, O'Rourke dreaded the flight back. It was no secret she hated flying, especially over water.
The scene was no less emotional for fellow passenger Maria O'Driscoll. Although the two women didn't know each other, the seventy-year-old O'Driscoll was born in County Louth, a stone's throw from O'Rourke's birthplace. O'Driscoll had come to the United States when she was a young woman. Her reason was simple: "I fell in love with a Yank." That was back in 1954.
Standing alongside her at the airport in Dublin was her husband, Lenny.
Lenny O'Driscoll wasn't "the Yank" that prompted Maria to move to America. That fellow, Maria's first husband, died in 1987. When Lenny met Maria a short time later, he, too, had lost a spouse. They married in 1993, and since then, they had been over to Ireland almost every year.
The occasion for this trip - not that they ever needed one - was the wedding of Maria's niece. Of her six brothers and sisters, Maria had been the only one to come to America...