Larry Call told his wife that he wasn't sure if it was a few seconds or a few minutes. But as he gripped the metal pole and hoisted it beneath the sprawling white canopy, he found himself suddenly paralyzed, frozen full of electricity and a pain he has not yet found words to describe.
He was jolted to the ground and lay there, barely conscious under the canvas, Paula Call said in a telephone interview from Alaska. This was the end, he thought. He looked around at it.
There, hurled to the ground along with him, were the men with whom he had just been happily working, setting up a huge dining canopy at the National Boy Scout Jamboree, a jubilant moment in their lives as Scout leaders and, for some, as fathers.
There was his close friend, Mike Lacroix, apparently unconscious but breathing. There were Scott E. Powell and Michael J. Shibe -- with whom he had planned this trip to Virginia for years -- their bodies twitching from the shock. There was the Scoutmaster, Ronald H. Bitzer, his body on fire.
Call felt himself slipping. At that moment, he later told his wife, he was ready to die.
He looked around for his 15-year-old son, Kendell. He wanted his son to come to his side, but he couldn't speak, couldn't call out his name.
But Kendell, who had witnessed the accident, came anyway. And then something happened there on the floor -- some words or gestures that no one perceived but them.
"Some things happened between father and son," was all Paula Call would say, and is more or less all she knows. "My husband just said that for some reason, Kendell almost pulled him right back to life."
Lacroix, Shibe, Powell and Bitzer -- who journeyed with Call, three other leaders and 72 Scouts from Anchorage to Washington, D.C., and finally to Fort A.P. Hill, Va. -- died after the pole they were hoisting Monday afternoon struck a power line that they apparently could not see from under the canopy.
Along with Call, who was burned on his hands and feet, a contract worker was injured. Both were hospitalized in stable condition yesterday. Another contractor and a Scout were less seriously injured.
Boy Scout officials revealed little about the investigation yesterday. The jamboree went on, even as sons boarded planes for the long flights home to Anchorage, the place they had excitedly left last week, their uniforms pressed, their duffels full of tents and stoves and supplies.
The five men were leaders within the Western Alaska Boy Scout Council, which covers most of the state, and for the past three years or so they had bonded as they dealt with all the logistics of escorting the Scouts to the nation's capital and the jamboree.
Powell, who had recently retired and moved to Ohio, ran Boy Scout Camp Gorsuch in Anchorage for about 20 years, teaching young men how to cook, navigate and properly wield an ax.
Bitzer, a retired lawyer with two grown sons, was an assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 129 and held many positions, paid and volunteer, with the Denali district over the years, said Ken Schoolcraft, a family attorney and friend.
Shibe was a veteran of jamborees, a ubiquitous volunteer who had earned the Scouts' highest honor for adults, the Silver Beaver. He took on various leadership roles for more than 30 years, most recently as Scoutmaster for a local troop, said Rod Pfleger, a friend. Shibe had four sons, two of whom are Eagle Scouts like their father, and two of whom, 14-year-old twins, were at the jamboree with him.
Lacroix, a partner in a company called Vend Alaska, and his friend Call led a small troop sponsored by the men's Mormon church in Anchorage. Lacroix had a daughter and three sons, one of whom, Cullen, 14, was with him in Virginia, said Ruth Orien, a family friend.
She was at Lacroix's house the night before the big group headed off. Lacroix, a tall man with a trim beard and a near reverence for U.S. history, was practically giddy, she said.
The trip had been three years in the making, three years of e-mails and meetings, of waffle fundraisers and making sure the boys had the right uniforms and the right patches, the proper camp stoves and trenching tools -- heaps of gear loaded up on a trailer, then parked in Lacroix's driveway.
It was past midnight. He stood there and looked at it, Orien said.
"He said, 'Look at how that trailer is loaded down,' " she recalled. "I sat with him on the couch until 1 a.m. . . . He was so excited he could hardly contain himself. The things they'd be learning, the experience they'd have. And he was so happy to take Cullen along."
And so the group, having formed two new jamboree troops, 711 and 712, left for the airport in the 4 a.m. light.
By 7 a.m. they were off on their epic rite of passage -- to Washington, where Scout leaders had sketched out six joyous days of chiseled marble and landscaped lawns: the Navy Museum, the White House, the World War II Memorial on Wednesday; the National Zoo, Embassy Row, the National Cathedral on Thursday; ESPN Zone, Capitol Hill, Air and Space on Friday, and so on, until, at last, they left for the glorious jamboree.
They arrived at A.P. Hill on Monday, thousands of acres of brown and khaki, a happy chaos of tents being pitched and elaborate gates being raised to mark the regions of the country from which nearly 40,000 Scouts had come.
About 4:30 p.m., a contractor asked for some help raising a large tent that Troops 711 and 712 would use as a gathering spot for meals and sit-downs. Bitzer, Powell, Shibe, Lacroix and Call offered their help. They tried hoisting the metal rod once, said Paula Call, but it struck something overhead. They brought it back down and hoisted it again.
"My son was very emotional when I talked to him last night," Paula Call said. "And I haven't been able to talk to him today."
Kendell is still there, for now. Her husband plans to go back to the jamboree if he is released from the hospital in time. "He just wants to be back with the boys," she said.
Michael J. Shibe was a jamboree veteran who had earned the Scouts' highest honor for adults.
Ronald H. Bitzer held many Scout positions, paid and volunteer, over the years, a friend said.
Mike Lacroix helped lead a small troop sponsored by a Mormon church in Anchorage.