Twist of Fate Keeps California Man Out of Iran

Missing hikers mistakenly crossed border

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    TK
    This is the area where the hikers were supposed to be walking when they apparently cross the border of Iran.

    An American linguistics student traveling in northern Iraq didn't go on an ill-fated hiking trip because he had a cold -- a twist of fate that prevented him from mistakenly wandering into Iran where his three friends were reportedly detained.

    The Swiss Embassy in Tehran was working Sunday to learn more about the Americans' fate through its contacts with the Iranian Foreign Ministry, spokeswoman Nadine Olivieri said. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran.

    Shon Meckfessel sat out the hike because he had a cold, his grandmother, Irene Meckfessel, told The Associated Press from her home in Carmichael, Calif. He called her Saturday from the American Embassy in Baghdad, she said.

    Irene Meckfessel told Fox 40 in Sacramento that her grandson is, "nice and safe."

    "He said they didn't go over the border. This is one of those things where... and they also in the article, the New York Times, that they found a bottle of whiskey... He said no, there wasn't any whiskey there. If there was, he wouldn't have lied to me," she told the TV station.

    They also identified Meckfessel as the base guitarist for the Sacramento rock band Cake. 

    The original group of four had traveled to Turkey, then entered Iraq on Tuesday and traveled to Sulaimaniyah, according to the Kurdish regional government. On Thursday, Meckfessel stayed behind while the other three took a taxi to the resort town of Ahmed Awaa, it added.

    Among those in the group is Shane Bauer who graduated from U.C. Berkeley in 2007 with a degree in Arabic and Peace and Conflict Study.

    The regional government's statement said the three got lost during an excursion and were detained by Iranian authorities at the border.

    The area where the three disappeared is a popular hiking destination known for a picturesque waterfall and rocky scenery as well as a thick growth of fruit and nut trees.

    Camping equipment and two backpacks apparently belonging to the Americans were found in the area and it seemed they were hiking above the waterfall when they accidentally crossed the border, a Kurdish security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

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    Shortly before their capture, the three contacted a fourth member -- Meckfessel -- to say they had entered Iran by mistake and were surrounded by troops, the official said.

    Iran's state TV said the Americans were arrested after they did not heed warnings from Iranian border guards. It cited a "well-informed source" in the Interior Ministry.
         
    One of the missing Americans has been identified by Kurdish authorities as Joshua Fattal. His mother, Laura Fattal of Elkins Park, Pa., issued a brief statement Sunday.

    "My husband and I are only concerned about Josh" and the two others, she said.

    Meckfessel and another of the missing hikers were both studying Arabic, said Irene Meckfessel, who raised her grandson. Shon Meckfessel had most recently studied at the University of Washington in Seattle.

    "He's very much interested in people and languages and he's working on a Ph.D. in linguistics," she said.

    In Iran, Swiss diplomats have asked for consular access to the Americans if their presence in Iran is confirmed, Olivieri told the AP. Switzerland has represented U.S. interests in Iran since American diplomats were taken hostage at the embassy in Tehran 30 years ago.

    "Our embassy in Tehran is in contact with the Iranian Foreign Ministry and is trying to get a confirmation of the situation," she said.

    The State Department, which requested the help, knows about Switzerland's efforts, said spokesman Robert Wood in Washington.