your connection to The Boston Globe

Newlyweds' perfect hike ends in tragedy

They were newlyweds spending a brilliant autumn day hiking through the White Mountains, a pair of Harvard graduate students enjoying the foliage of the northern woods.

When Brian Wood and Stine Rossel sat on a fallen tree at the top of a crest, they thought they had found the perfect perch to view the fall colors. Then, from the simplest act - a picnic in the woods - a bizarre, rapid-fire series of events led to unimaginable tragedy Saturday.

"We had a nice bench seat on this log looking over the beautiful fall colors," Wood said, occasionally sobbing during a telephone interview yesterday. "We just wanted to sit and have a picnic and enjoy the colors. . . . We were just like newlyweds should be."

Wood said he "scooted over" to be closer to his new wife, then heard a snapping sound - the tree breaking at its roots. In a flash, the part of the tree where they were sitting shifted, sending the couple tumbling down the hill. The tree rolled down on top of them, slamming into Rossel's head and knocking her unconscious.

First, Wood furiously tried administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation to his wife, then was helped by a stranger, a nurse, who happened to be on the trail. By the time paramedics arrived on the scene, all they could do was pronounce Rossel, 32, dead.

"She did not suffer," Wood said, fighting back tears. "I think it should be said it was a freak accident. It just doesn't make any sense."

Officials at the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said the couple was hiking along the Boulder Loop Trail in Albany, N.H., when the accident occurred.

"There was nothing that rescue personnel could do to help her," said Jane Vachon, a spokeswoman for the department. "The log rolled over on top of her and crushed her. It's just an unexpected thing."

Rossel's death, a month short of when she was due to receive her doctorate in archeology, stunned her professors and classmates at Harvard, almost all of whom recalled her as an intelligent and adventurous woman.

Zinovi Matskevich, an anthropology graduate student who shared an office with Rossel, said Rossel gathered with friends at a Cambridge pub Friday night.

"She was extremely happy" Matskevich said. "She got married to the man she loved. She finished her PhD. She was full of plans. Who could have guessed it was her last evening?"

Wood said he fell in love with his wife when he first saw her at Harvard's Peabody Museum three years ago. He asked her to marry him while on a safari in Tanzania. The couple wedded Aug. 18 at the Scandinavian home of Karen Blixen, author of "Out of Africa," under her pen name, Isak Dinesen.

Nearing the end of her graduate studies, Rossel had been working as an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen in her native Denmark. She was visiting her husband at Harvard and was scheduled to fly back to Europe on Sunday.

The plan was for Wood, 31, to move in January to Denmark, where the couple would live and raise a family together.

"She was an absolutely lovely person, and that's not said because she has passed away," her academic advisor, Richard H. Meadow, said in a phone interview.

"She was quite literally a beacon, a constant ray of sun piercing even the grayest and most sullen Cambridge weather," wrote three fellow graduate students, Cheryl Makarewicz, Benjamin Arbuckle and Joshua Wright, in an e-mail to the Globe.

Rossel had camped near lions in the Serengeti plains of Africa, labored under the hot sun of remote Egyptian archeology digs, and crisscrossed the turbulent Mideast without difficulty, but lost her life on a picnic in New Hampshire, her husband said.

Wood said a memorial service is planned for Thursday at Harvard's Memorial Church in Cambridge. A foundation in her name will be created, he said.

"She was like the sun," Wood said of his wife. "It's like the sun disappearing from the sky."

More from