As the world marks the 100th anniversary of the "Titanic" disaster, a mystery is smoldering in Russia over one of the disaster's alleged survivors.
The man, Murzakan Kuchiev, a native Ossetian with a strong love of family and Arabian horses, reportedly set out on the "Titanic" in search of fame and fortune in the United States.
His descendants, now divided between Moscow and North Ossetia, claim he bought a third-class ticket and carefully repeat what they say is his remarkable tale of surviving the world's most famous maritime tragedy.
Kuchiev's granddaughter, Indira Kadzova, says her grandfather was above deck nursing a queasy stomach after a meal of bad herring when the disaster took place, forcing him to plunge into the water.
"I think that he decided on his own to jump," Kadzova says. "He was young and strong, and he understood that he had to find some way to save himself. So he jumped into the water. I remember that he said he found something to hold on to -- some kind of board or branch or something."
Kuchiev claimed to have been eventually rescued and, after a protracted recovery in a U.S. hospital, he returned to Ossetia with compensation money he said had been granted by the lord mayor of London.
But no documents related to the ship -- including the comprehensive passenger list published by encyclopedia-titanica.org
that is the go-to source for many "Titanic" scholars -- bear any trace of Kuchiev or his colorful story, with its chilling details about having to pry a fellow passenger's fingers off his neck after she had died in the icy ocean waters.
"He stayed in the water for a long time," Kadzova says. "The lifeboat that finally rescued him was either from another boat or had been one of the ones that turned around and came back. And he said that that woman who had been clinging onto his neck had already died from hypothermia. But he couldn't detach himself from her, her hands were frozen and locked around his neck. But he understood that she was dead and that there was no way to help her, so he finally pulled her hands off his neck with whatever strength he had left."
The story, which ends with Kuchiev being declared an enemy of the state in the Soviet Union and dying alone in self-imposed exile, has proved irresistible to Russian media, which have reported on the Ossetian's story for years.
One of the most recent reports, a video by the Channel One television station that interviews a number of Kuchiev's descendants in both Moscow and North Ossetia, attempts to explain his absence from official lists, blaming it on the inability of Western bureaucrats to accurately transcribe foreign names.
Western experts, however, suggest Kuchiev's absence from the exhaustively researched passenger lists casts considerable doubt on his story.
Even if Kuchiev had managed to board the ship without a ticket -- as was the case with many passengers -- his subsequent rescue, hospitalization, and compensation would have almost certainly left a paper trail.
Nor is it likely that a third-class passenger or someone without a ticket would have been able to make it to the upper decks for a breath of fresh air.
Steerage-class passengers were kept locked below decks, in observance of health regulations. Other third-class survivors told of making their away to the upper decks only after chopping through locks and barred gates.
Still, Kuchiev's story, with its breathtaking beginning and tragic finale, is an incontrovertible point of pride for his family, including Kadzova, whose 86-year-old mother says she remembers listening to her father's tale as a small girl in North Ossetia.
"We had heard that story for years," Kadzova says, "but in some ways it didn't really sink in until the movie came out" -- a reference to James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster.
RFE/RL will continue to investigate the claims of Murzakan Kuchiev and his family. If you've got suggestions or thoughts about the validity of the story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.