July 13, 2001 05:03 PM

Iva Bradley delighted in the way other passengers on the Norwegian-registered cruise ship Rhapsody of the Seas reacted to her vivacious daughter Amy, then 23. “I remember watching people watch her admiringly,” she says, “I felt proud.”

Now she is convinced that at least one of those admirers got too close. At 1:30 a.m. on March 24, 1998, Iva and her husband, Ron, 49, an insurance executive, retired to the eighth-deck cabin the family shared, leaving Amy and her brother Brad, then 21, at a calypso party. Four hours later Ron woke briefly and noticed Amy resting on a lounge chair on their cabin’s private balcony. When he stirred again at 6 a.m., she was gone, along with her cigarettes and lighter. He and his wife immediately reported Amy missing and pleaded in vain with the crew to keep the other passengers from leaving the ship when it docked that morning at the Caribbean island of Curaçao.

A search of the ship and an aerial hunt turned up nothing, so the Bradleys stayed on Curaçao hoping for word. After four fruitless days they returned to their home in suburban Chesterfield County, Va., setting up a hotline and Web site for information about Amy. The most intriguing lead came from David Carmichael, 46, a Canadian computer engineer and avid scuba diver, who is certain he saw Amy with two men on the beach in Curaçao in August 1998 — five months after she disappeared. “She looked frightened, like she was about to say something, when one of the guys motioned her away and gave me a menacing look,” says Carmichael. He thought nothing of it until that December, when he saw a picture of Amy on America’s Most Wanted. “I was stunned,” says Carmichael, who flew to Virginia to meet the Bradleys. “I am haunted by that encounter with Amy. I know it was her.”

A Norwegian government inquiry found no sign of foul play. And though the FBI found marks on the ship’s balcony railing consistent with someone having sat on it, investigators say there is no evidence that Amy, a trained lifeguard, fell overboard, was pushed or committed suicide. The case is still open. Meanwhile, the Bradleys, who sued the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line for negligence and wrongful death last year and lost (they’re appealing), can only wait and hope. “I just know she is alive,” says Iva, 48. “I can feel it.”

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