Last week, a 71-year-old Wisconsin man named Charles Noha flew from Green Bay to Washington with his daughter Cathy and their dog Cottontail -- the first leg of a journey home, they said, so the ailing Noha could die in his native England.
But thick fog closed London's Heathrow Airport last Wednesday canceling the Pan American flight on which the Nohas had booked two first class seats. Because of that, father and daughter were grounded from international travel and their plans began to unravel.
As it later turned out, the Nohas had charged their tickets -- as well as two first-class return seats -- to an Ohio-based company in whose name they had opened an unauthorized account with an Arlington travel agent.
Had the fog not crept into Healthrow they would now be in England.
"Noha said yesterday. "This has been a fiasco Now I just want to go away. I didn't mean any harm."
As a result of the Nohas' adventure the FBI was called in briefly at Dulles airport last week to question the pair. The travel agent who nearly lost $4,000 in false bookings has declined to press charges and has helped the Nohas find temporary shelter in Alexandria. And the extent of Charles Noha's illness, portrayed at first as an inoperable brain tumor, cannot be confirmed by doctors at hospitals where he said he was treated in Wisconsin.
In interviews this week at Christ House, a Catholic-run shelter in Alexandria, Cathy Noha described herself as a freelance writer of industrial pamphlets, and a former astrology columnist for a defunct Santa Barbara, Calif., newspaper. Her father, she said, is a former factory worker in the grimy mills of Green Bay, where the clanging of steel equipment cost him a partial loss of hearing. A crippled knee forces him to walk with a cane.
Earlier this month, Cathy Noha said, she rejoined her father in the tiny one-bedroom house he rented for $235 a month in Green Bay after drifting around in great unhappiness in Hawaii, Oregon and Florida.
"The one person who hasn't gone away from me in my life is my father," she said emotionally, after acknowledging she had used deception in an attempt to leave the country.
"When he said in early November that he was dying, I said, 'that's it, we're going to England,' where he had always wanted to go," she recalled.
She said she believed her father's report that he had been told he had a brain tumor and had only months to live.
A check by a reporter disclosed that none of the hospitals in Green Bay where Noha said he was treated had any record of him, either under his own name or the two aliases he said he used.
But Cathy Noha, without telling her father, she said, devised a plan to make the transatlantic flight possible in spite of her own inadequate $400 monthly income and her father's $124.11 monthly disability check.
Once in Washington, she said, she ordered tickets by telephone through a "corporate account" in the name of an Ohio firm that had once employed her.
The travel arrangements were made by Global Travel Inc., an Arlington agency whose owner, Judy Long, said yesterday, "I usually check references more thoroughly, but this was the Thanksgiving rush."
Long was the first to learn that the Nohas were not authorized to use the account. When she tried to call them at their "business" phone, she realized it was at a Holiday Inn in Crystal City. "When I confronted her with this, she broke down and cried," Long said.
Long, who tried to help after she got the tickets back, drove the weeping Cathy Noha and her father to Christ House, where they have stayed since their plans collapsed.
Cathy Noha said yesterday she is awaiting money from a friend in California so she can take her father and Cottontail, his constant companion, to the West Coast for what she hopes will be "a fresh start."