A Washington state family is suing Alaska Airlines and a contractor for allegedly neglecting to properly care for a disabled 75-year-old grandmother who suffered a fall down a Portland International Airport escalator in June and later died.
After her flight from Hawaii landed in Portland in June 2017, contractors at the airport assisted Bernice Kekona into a seat-belted wheelchair, both the lawsuit and the airline said.
The employees from Huntleigh, USA were supposed to transport the 75-year-old grandmother to her next gate, according to the family, but she was somehow left alone.
According to the lawsuit, Kekona showed her ticket to an Alaska Airlines employee stationed at her arrival gate who gestured the direction the grandmother needed to go in.
Minutes later, the lawsuit says, Kekona was moving through the airport, confused and lost. She stopped at a security checkpoint and an airport store looking for her departure gate.
Airport surveillance video obtained by ABC-affiliate KXLY, shows Kekona at the top of an escalator, which she later said she thought was an elevator. By the time she realized her misjudgment, her wheelchair was on the escalator and she was tumbling nearly 21 steps down the moving escalator.
Video shows one man, riding up the opposite side of the pair of escalators, leaping over the sides to assist. Several others also rushed over, including one woman who found the emergency stop button.
Kekona and her chair were eventually uprighted, but she was hurt. Her family says she suffered trauma to her head and chest, a cut to her Achilles tendon and gashes on the side of her face. Her tendon would never heal, according to her family.
Federal law regulations require airlines to provide assistance to the disabled when traveling, including when making connections.
Huntleigh, USA, who is contracted by Alaska Airlines for disability services through the airport, told ABC News "Huntleigh USA Corporation is investigating the facts of this case in cooperation with our legal counsel."
Alaska Airlines said an investigation is continuing, but "it appears that Ms. Kekona declined ongoing assistance in the terminal and decided to proceed on her own to her connecting flight."
"It also appears that when her family members booked the reservation, they did not check any of the boxes for a passenger with “Blind/low vision,” “Deaf/hard of hearing,” or “Other special needs (i.e., developmental or intellectual disability, senior/elderly).” So, there was no indication in the reservation that Ms. Kekona had cognitive, visual, or auditory impairments."
Alaska Airlines also told ABC News that Kekona had the right to decline wheelchair services.
The company added that they were "heartbroken by this tragic and disturbing incident."
The family's lawyer says Kekona suffered constant, serious pain in the months to following the incident.
In September, her wound to her tendon became so severe, doctors amputated her leg below the knee, according to a lawsuit filed by the family. Her blood pressure never recovered from the surgery and Kekona died the next day.
Her family is now suing Alaska Airlines and Huntleigh, USA for failing to provide what they say was agreed upon gate-to-gate transportation.
"I just want them to make it right. It's not going to bring her back, but someone needs to own up. Someone needs to take responsibility," said granddaughter Danielle Kekahuna.
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