(Fifteen years ago today, the Flyers’ Dmitri Tertyshny was killed in a gruesome boating accident in British Columbia. This is the story written afterward by Les Bowen, the Daily News’ Flyers beat writer.)
The black, orange and white Flyers equipment bag with Dmitri Tertyshny's No. 5 stenciled on the side inched its way along baggage carrousel E, underneath the C Concourse at Philadephia International Airport.
The bag advanced toward a group of casually dressed young men, who all seemed to be trying not to stare at it. Finally, Phantoms winger Brian Wesenberg flexed his muscular left arm, grasped the handle and wrenched the bag free, setting it carefully to the side of a pile of similar luggage. No glance met Wesenberg's, and he kept his chin buried in his chest.
This was near midnight Saturday, as a stunned Flyers group returned from Kelowna , British Columbia, where a two-week skating camp ended in tragedy. Not returning with his friends was Tertyshny, 22, a Flyers defenseman who died horribly, in the arms of Phantoms defenseman Mikhail Chernov, after a boating accident Friday evening.
According to a Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman, Tertyshny was riding in the front of a 17-foot rented runabout when it hit a wake and he was thrown forward, out of the boat, which was being driven by Phantoms winger Francis Belanger. The boat then ran over Tertyshny, and he was mangled by the propeller. He was able to get back into the craft, with the assistance of his friends, but he quickly bled to death from injuries that included a severed hand, a severed carotid artery and a severed jugular vein.
While Chernov cradled Tertyshny, who was spurting blood from as many as six severed arteries, Belanger tried to get the boat back to the dock. It isn't clear how far out on the Okanagan Lake the players were when the accident occurred, but it apparently took them about five minutes to return to the Kelowna Marina, where they'd rented the 90-horsepower, outboard-powered boat.
Rick Ito, a marina employee who had rented the boat to the players a little more than four hours earlier, heard a commotion as the boat approached, Ito later said. Someone - possibly 22-year-old Michelle Munro, a Kelowna woman the players had met and invited aboard that afternoon - was screaming about a cut arm. Ito grabbed towels and ran out the door.
He wasn't ready for what he saw. "It's something I'm trying to forget," Ito told the Daily News the next day, "but I don't think I ever will. " The uninjured members of the party were "freaking out," Ito said.
"They were in shock. . .They were out of the boat. I got on and saw it was more than an arm. There was nothing I could do."
A 911 call went out at 7:32 Pacific Daylight Time, according to the RCMP spokesman, staff Sgt. Phillip Boissonneault. An ambulance arrived three minutes later, and transported Tertyshny to Kelowna General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy was scheduled yesterday, with results possibly announced today.
At lunch on Friday, Tertyshny had told friends he planned to call his wife, Paulina, during the weekend and tell her to come to South Jersey, that he wanted to spend the remaining six weeks or so before his second NHL training camp working out, instead of going back to Russia, as he had planned. Instead, Paulina, four months pregnant, got a call from the wife of Flyers scout Evgeny Zimin, telling her Dmitri was dead.
Flyers president and general manager Bob Clarke yesterday recalled Tertyshny as "a nice, quiet kid who worked hard all the time and always had a grin on his face. " Clarke felt Tertyshny had "lots of potential, because he had skill and brains."
Flyers captain Eric Lindros, like several teammates, heard the news after returning from winger John LeClair's charity golf tournament in Vermont. Lindros said he was "just shocked. " He praised Tertyshny as "a real gamer. Consistent. A terrific person. Kind of quiet, with a great sense of humor. He was outgoing; his wife was just wonderful. He'll certainly be missed. . .He always put the team first, always worked extra hard. He was going to be an All-Star one day."
In April, Flyers strength coach Jim McCrossin was the guy the team left in Nashville, Tenn., at the side of Lindros's hospital bed, after Lindros suffered a collapsed lung as a result of severe internal bleeding. At the time, McCrossin thought that a grim duty. Now the Flyers have asked McCrossin to stay in Kelowna , doing whatever is necessary to get Tertyshny's body back to his family in Russia, a process complicated by Canadian and Russian regulations, that could take as long as two weeks.
"I just went back to the hospital, picked up his wedding ring and the cross he wore," McCrossin said on Saturday. "It's very difficult. Probably the most difficult thing I've ever done."
McCrossin and his wife, Robyn, ate lunch with Tertyshny on Friday. It was the final day of the skating camp for the nine-member Flyers group, and the pace slackened; Flyers skating coach David Roy, the camp director, said beach volleyball replaced a normal sprint through a tire course. After lunch, players dispersed. Flyers winger Sandy McCarthy had made arrangements to rent a houseboat, with a driver, but somehow he missed connections with Belanger, Chernov and Tertyshny. McCarthy went to look for them at the marina, and was told they'd rented another boat minutes earlier. McCarthy and the other members of the Flyers' party were back in their rooms at a Holiday Inn when they heard the news, Chernov calling McCrossin on the phone.
"Mikhail doesn't speak much English," McCrossin said. "But he was able to get across that Dmitri was dead."
McCrossin felt the loss deeply, as did most who knew the young defenseman.
"He was just so young, so full of life," McCrossin said. "He loved being in Philadelphia. I know a lot of people didn't get a chance to know him. I really wish they had."
A sixth-round draft pick in 1995, Tertyshny was not a prospect the Flyers talked about a lot before he turned pro a year ago. He was a gangly, bowlegged kid, 6-2, 180, with stringy, collar-length black hair. He could have passed for a teenager. His nickname, "Tree," was a corruption of his first name, but it also fit his spindly shape.
"What stood out, right from the start of training camp, was his ability to play defense," said Flyers assistant general manager Paul Holmgren, who recalled that the team originally had ticketed Tertyshny for the Phantoms, before he impressed everyone with his intelligence and poise.
"It's very rare for a young guy to be so smart in his own zone," Holmgren said. "What we saw last season [62 games, two goals, eight assists, minus-one] was just the tip of the iceberg. He needed to get a little bigger, a little stronger. We thought that would come."
Last season, Clarke unerringly referred to the rookie as "Young Tertyshny," to the extent that reporters joked he should officially change his first name. Now he will be forever young.
Several people close to the situation said that Belanger blames himself for the accident, although the RCMP spokesman said an investigation concluded the boat was moving at "moderate" speed and that no charges were being contemplated "at this time. " Boissonneault said alcohol had been consumed on the boat, but Belanger was not legally impaired.
"He knows because he was the driver of the boat, people are going to point fingers and say it was his fault," McCrossin said. "It was an accident. Things happen. Who knows why? They weren't clowning around in the boat. They weren't drinking [to excess]. The police told me, nine times out of 10, you go off the boat to either side, instead of straight ahead."
Tertyshny had flown out to the camp on July 10, connecting through Vancouver, along with Flyers assistant to the president Barry Hanrahan, Hanrahan's wife, Lisa, and their son, Jack, who were on vacation. Hanrahan recalled yesterday how boyish and upbeat Tertyshny seemed, how he scurried to help Lisa with her luggage.
Hanrahan remembered how they parted: "I told him I'd see him in a couple weeks," he said.