We all know about the power of the Internet to connect people in a community or on opposite ends of the earth. But one family, grieving over the sudden death of two of its loved ones in last December's Asian tsunami, has felt the Internet's power in a remarkable, personal way.
Christian Pilet is a missionary from North Bend, Washington. A month after the December 26th tsunami devastated Indian Ocean coastal communities and killed more than a quarter million people, Christian packed his bags and set off to Thailand to help survivors. Christian and his friend Cameron Craig, a youth minister from Ohio, were walking along a beach strewn with rubble from the tsunami.
In the debris, Christian says, Cameron caught sight of a battered digital camera. "He said, 'Hey look, I found this camera and it is smashed. What should we do with it?' I said, 'I don't know. It doesn't look like it would be much use.' He said, 'Let's take the card out...you never know [what you might find].'"
Christian Pilet put the camera's removable memory card in his pocket and kept walking. Later that night, they loaded the images successfully into Christian's laptop computer.
"For us it was absolutely stunning," says Christian. "It was like hearing somebody speak their last words, and then they are cut off mid-sentence. That is how it was. You see this very happy couple having a wonderful time and then the picture of the wave coming. The wave is coming, and then it is there and then there is silence."
Christian Pilet was determined to identify the couple. When he returned home, his wife began to search the Internet for a photo match.
"It was the first hit that she did," he says. "She had done a Google search and pulled it up and she clicked. And she said, 'This is the guy.' And I remember thinking, 'There is no way that you just click and [from] the hundreds of missing people pages that you are going to pick just the one.' And, sure enough, the next morning I got up and looked at it, and it was the one."
The missing people turned out to be Canadian tourists John and Jackie Knill, both 54. Christian Pilet drove to Canada to deliver the pictures to the couple's three sons. Jackie's sister, Terri Maguire, says the family is comforted knowing how John and Jackie spent their last moments.
"It gave me a sense of calm because I knew they weren't running in terror. But each person in the family has dealt with it a little different," she says. And, having been there in Thailand, Terri's husband , which has already raised $60,000 to help build a school in a country that John and Jackie loved so much.