alaska airlines
A Washington family sued Alaska Airlines and a contractor of the airline for allegedly neglecting to care for a 75-year-old disabled woman, Dec. 28, 2017. Pixabay

A family from Spokane, Washington, sued Alaska Airlines and a contractor of the airline Wednesday for allegedly neglecting their duties in taking proper care of a disabled 75-year-old woman, who fell down from an escalator in Portland International Airport in June. The woman later died of her injuries.

Bernice Kekona landed in Portland from Hawaii in June and the contractors at the airport helped her with a wheelchair, which had seat belt, as stated in the lawsuit and also mentioned by officials of the airline, ABC News reported.

According to Kekona’s family, the employees from the contracting company, Huntleigh, were supposed to assist Kekona to reach the next gate but she was left to find her own way.

The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court on Wednesday, stated after few minutes Kekona became confused and got lost in the airport. She also stopped at the security checkpoint and near a store inside the airport to look for her departure gate.

A surveillance video captured Kekona falling down an escalator while still tied to her wheelchair, according to a report by KXLY, an ABC-affiliated television station. The video also showed a man jumped over from the opposite side in an effort to stop her from falling.

The report added Kekona later told the paramedics she thought she was getting on the elevator, but by the time she realized her mistake, the wheelchair was on the escalator, which resulted in her falling down 21 steps.

Kekona’s family said they got a call from the airport regarding the incident.

Kekona's daughter Darlene Bloyed reportedly said, “They pretty much told me they’re taking my mom to the hospital because she was at the bottom of the escalator. … I yelled at the phone – ‘what the hell is she doing at the bottom of the escalator?’”

The report said Kekona had multiple injuries, which included escalator teeth marks on her face, trauma to her head and chest. However, according to her family, a cut in Kekona’s Achilles tendon was the wound which resulted in her death.

Kekona’s granddaughter Desiree Kekahuna said, “She’d lay in bed screaming, banging on the walls, pounding on her other [prosthetic] leg to take away the pain.”

In September, the wound got sceptic, which resulted in doctors amputating the leg. Kekona died the next day, the report said.

The family’s attorney Brook Cunningham said, “We’re hoping that Alaska steps up to the plate. … They were supposed to provide her [Kekona] a service. She’s a vulnerable adult, they requested the service as they were supposed to do under the law and Alaska didn’t provide the service. What happened was the tragic death of Bernice Kekona way too early in life.”

Cunningham also referred to the federal Air Carrier Access Act, which had provisions related to protection of disabled passengers. The act stated “airlines are required to provide assistance with boarding, deplaning and making connections.”

Huntleigh refused to comment on the matter other than saying they didn’t go through the filed lawsuit.

However, Alaska Airlines released a statement on the incident:

We're heartbroken by this tragic and disturbing incident. After landing in Portland, Ms. Kekona was assisted into her own motorized scooter by an airport consortium wheelchair service provider who then escorted her from the aircraft into the concourse. Once in the concourse, she went off on her own. We learned from bystanders that Ms. Kekona sustained a fall while attempting to operate her own electronic chair down a moving escalator next to the A concourse elevator. We immediately called the Port of Portland Fire and Rescue, along with Port of Portland Police, who responded to the scene quickly to provide her medical treatment.

The KXLY report stated Alaska Airlines said in an email, after an initial investigation, it discovered Kekona denied help provided to her and made a decision to find her own way toward the connecting flight.

Kekona’s granddaughter Kekahuna said, referring to the contractor company and airlines being held accountable, “I want them to make it right. … It’s not gonna bring her [Kekona] back, but someone needs to own up. Someone needs to take responsibility.”