NEW YORK — “You’d be surprised how many people die down here every week,” said 63-year-old Timothy Kodera, Airborne Hygiene Consultant for the New York City Sanitation Department. The “down here” Kodera referred to were the miles of subway and sewer tunnels under Manhattan. The “Hygiene” in his title is a euphemism for corpse collection. And the “Airborne” — well, that’s a whole different story.
“Dozens of folks pass away in these parts Monday-to-Sunday,” Kodera confirmed as he moved easily through the dank, dark labyrinthine core beneath the Big Apple. “They die of injury, disease, old age, alligator attacks and so forth. “Back in the early days, we used to have a ‘cadaver car’ to move ’em out — a subway train which would run the entire line. We’d gather the individuals we found along the way and deliver them to pauper’s graves. But we started to run out of space, so they took the cadaver car to the ‘bone boat,’ which buried the bodies in the river.”
“Unfortunately, a garbage strike in ’88 left our scow stranded in the harbor for over a week,” Kodera said. “That was very unfortunate. Not for the bodies — far as I know, they didn’t care. But it was bad for the people who lived in the Battery Park area.” That was when it hit him. “I looked at those bodies thinking, ‘My brother is a commercial pilot. I’m a body-gatherer’ It was like peanut butter hitting chocolate in that old commercial,” Kodera said. “I sold the idea to the city and — viola! We had ourselves an airline where everyone was ‘late.’ ”
“I still gather the poor deceased souls as before,” he told us. “But now I put them in an air conditioned bus — the AC is for my benefit since these folks aren’t nosegays — and I personally drive them to a variety of small airports in the tri-state area. We sing along the way, though I have yet to have anyone join in on ‘Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.’ When we arrive, my brother Audie loads them onto his Casa 212-200 twin engine turboprop cargo aircraft.
“There are deep seats to keep the passengers from sliding around, and a lot of leg room since they’re — well, stiff,” Kodera said. “Then comes a relatively short, scenic flight to a lovely Caribbean isle. There, the passengers are dropped by parachute to whatever fate the four winds choose for them. Though,” he confided conspiratorially, “ most of them land in the water where they are eaten by sharks.” He shrugged. “New York is big on recycling, so it’s all good.
“Y’know, these people who couldn’t get a break in life are going out first-class,” Kodera said. “I hope I’m that lucky when my time comes.” He hesitated. “Except for the shark part.”