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Family sues airline after former Maui woman in wheelchair falls at airport

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ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE

The family of Bernice Kekona is suing Alaska Airlines and a Portland International Airport airport contractor for failing to escort the wheelchair-bound woman as she sought to make a connecting flight. Airport surveillance video aired by ABC’s “Good Morning America” shows Kekona’s wheelchair toppling forward in a downward escalator.

The family of a former Maui resident who died from complications from a fall at Portland International Airport is suing Alaska Airlines and an airport contractor for failing to escort the wheelchair-bound woman as she sought to make a connecting flight.

Bernice Kekona, 75, was traveling in June from Maui to Spokane, Wash., with a connection in Portland.

Employees from Huntleigh USA, a contractor that handles transport of people with disabilities within the airport for Alaska Airlines, helped Kekona into a seat-belted wheelchair but did not accompany her to the next gate, as had previously been arranged, according to Kekona’s family.

While attempting to find her way, Kekona apparently entered a downward escalator.

Airport surveillance video aired by ABC’s “Good Morning America” shows Kekona’s wheelchair toppling forward and a man traveling on the parallel upward-bound escalator jumping over the divide to try to help her. The video also shows other witnesses rush to the scene to try to assist Kekona, who is pinned face down beneath the wheelchair as it reaches the bottom.

Kekona suffered injuries to her head and chest, as well as to her Achilles’ tendon.

Kekona was born and raised in Kahakuloa, Maui, and worked as a bus driver for Roberts of Hawaii. According to the Spokane-based daily newspaper, the Spokesman-Review, Kekona moved to Spokane in 2012 to live with family after one of her legs was amputated due to complications from diabetes.

Following the fall, Kekona suffered further complications with her injured Achilles’ tendon that resulted in the amputation of her remaining leg on Sept. 19. She died the following day.

The family’s suit, filed in King County Superior Court by attorneys Brook Cunningham and Troy Nelson, on behalf of Kekona’s family, alleges that the failure to properly escort Kekona to her connecting flight resulted in Kekona’s fall down the escalator and subsequent death.

The attorneys told the Spokesman-Review that Kekona regularly traveled to and from Maui for one-month stays and that it was standard practice for the family to request “gate-to-gate” service for Kekona during each leg of her flights.

“We’re heartbroken by this tragic and disturbing incident,” the airlines said in a statement provided to the Star-Advertiser on Friday. “We don’t have all the facts, but after conducting a preliminary investigation, it appears that Ms. Kekona declined ongoing assistance in the terminal and decided to proceed on her own to her connecting flight. After landing in Portland, Ms. Kekona was assisted into her own motorized scooter by an airport consortium wheelchair service provider Huntleigh. Once in the concourse, she went off on her own.”

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