Entries in Airplanes (5)


Sick Obese Woman Denied Flights Home, Dies Abroad

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The death of a 407-pound woman after being denied boarding on three flights was "preventable," according to an attorney for the woman's husband, who plans to pursue legal action against three airlines.

Vilma Soltesz, 56, died of kidney failure on Oct. 24 in Hungary, where she and her husband, Janos Soltesz, took an annual vacation to a home they owned in their native country, said Soltesz' attorney, Holly Ostrov-Ronai.

Vilma, who had health problems, had been trying to get back to the United States, where she could see her doctors, Ostrov-Ronai said.

The couple flew from New York City to Budapest by way of Amsterdam on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.  Vilma, who had one leg, got on the flight with the help of an airlift, and used a seatbelt extender when seated, Ostrov-Ronai said, adding that the couple had "no issues at all."

"KLM asked them when they would be flying home so that they could make proper arrangements," Ostrov-Ronai wrote in an email to ABC News.

When the couple went to the airport on Oct. 15 to board a KLM night flight home to New York, they were able to board.  However, Ostrov-Ronai said that the captain asked Vilma to disembark because she could not be secured in her seat due to an issue with a seat back.

"There was simply no legitimate reason in this instance for denying her boarding or forcing her to disembark," Ostrov-Ronai said.  "Their failure to make simple accommodations, that had been made prior, led to Vilma's death.  This is not best efforts in any regard."

In a statement, KLM said "every effort" was made to help Vilma.

The couple waited at the airport for five hours while the airline made calls to find an alternative to accommodate her.

They were advised to drive to Prague, where they could catch a "bigger plane" operated by Delta Airlines.  When they arrived, Ostrov-Ronai said, the couple was told that Delta only had a plastic wheelchair that could not handle Vilma's weight and that there was no sky lift available to get her onto the plane.

Delta spokesman Russel Cason offered the airline's "sincere condolences" for Vilma's passing.

"Despite a determined good-faith effort by Delta in Prague, we were also physically unable to board her on our aircraft on Oct. 16.  For this reason there was never an issue with the use of seat belt extenders," he said.

The couple drove back to their home in Hungary and made another effort, this time through Lufthansa, to get back to the United States.  When they boarded, they were forced to disembark by the captain, Ostrov-Ronai said, because Vilma was unable to fasten her seatbelt properly.

The airline said it worked with local partners, the fire brigade and technical experts to accommodate Vilma, but to no avail.

"After several time-consuming attempts it was decided that for the safety of this passenger and the over 140 fellow passengers, Lufthansa had to deny transportation of the passenger," said a statement issued by the airline.  "In order to avoid further delays which would have resulted in missed connections and severe inconvenience for other customers on board, this decision was unavoidable."

Two days later, Vilma died.

"They passed these people around from airline to airline and treated them with no dignity whatsoever, simply because they didn't want to deal with the situation," Ostrov-Ronai said.

She said Janos plans to pursue a lawsuit against the three airlines that denied his wife passage home, where she desperately needed medical treatment.

"Janos is heartbroken," Ostrov-Ronai said.  "The only thing that keeps him going day to day is that he wants justice for what was done to Vilma and to try to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else in the future."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Qantas Pulls Order for 35 Boeing Dreamliner Jets

Qantas(NEW YORK) -- Plotting a course through tough economic times, Qantas Airways has delivered a big blow to airline manufacturer Boeing by cancelling dozens of its new Dreamliner passenger jets.

"Given lower growth requirement in this uncertain global context, firm commitments for 35 B787-9s will be cancelled," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.

Those planes would be worth around $8.5 billion at "list prices."  So for now, the Australian carrier plans to stick with an older fleet for longer.

For the first time ever, Qantas has reported a $257 million annual loss -- that's going back to when it went private in 1995.

The airline, nicknamed the "Flying Kangaroo," has been hit by rising fuel prices and a series of strikes.

"Clearly we confront very difficult and uncertain trading conditions in Britain, Europe and the United States.  The fuel price is also uncertain.  The high Australian dollar will continue to create ripple effects throughout Australia as retail, manufacturing and tourism adjusts," Joyce said.

He insisted that transformation at the airline is on track, and that the goal "is to return it to profit and ensure it remains Australia's iconic flagship carrier."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


20,000 Surface-to-Air Missiles Missing in Libya

Human Rights Watch(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. officials had once thought there was little chance that terrorists could get their hands on many of the portable surface-to-air missiles that can bring down a commercial jet liner.

But now that calculation is out the window, with officials at a recent secret White House meeting reporting that thousands of them have gone missing in Libya.

"Matching up a terrorist with a shoulder-fired missile, that's our worst nightmare," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D.-California, a member of the Senate's Commerce, Energy and Transportation Committee.

The nightmare has been made real with the discovery in Libya that an estimated 20,000 portable, heat-seeking missiles have gone missing from unguarded Army weapons warehouses, thanks to the U.S. and NATO-aided rebellion against Moammar Gadhafi.

The missiles, four- to six-feet long and Russian-made, can weigh just 55 pounds with launcher.  They lock on to the heat generated by the engines of aircraft, can be fired from a vehicle or from a combatant's shoulder, and are accurate and deadly at a range of more than two miles.

Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch first warned about the problem after a trip to Libya six months ago.  He took pictures of pickup truckloads of the missiles being carted off during another trip just a few weeks ago.

"I myself could have removed several hundred if I wanted to, and people can literally drive up with pickup trucks or even 18 wheelers and take away whatever they want," said Bouckaert, HRW's emergencies director.  "Every time I arrive at one of these weapons facilities, the first thing we notice going missing is the surface-to-air missiles."

The ease with which rebels and other unknown parties have snatched thousands of the missiles has raised alarms that the weapons could end up in the hands of al Qaeda, which is active in Libya.

"There certainly are dangerous groups operating in the region, and we're very concerned that some of these weapons could end up in the wrong hands," said Bouckaert.

"I think the probability of al Qaeda being able to smuggle some of the stinger-like missiles out of Libya is probably pretty high," said Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism advisor and now a consultant to ABC News.

Adding to the urgency is the fact that America's passenger jets, like those of most countries, are sitting ducks, despite years of warning about the missile threat.  Since the 1970s, according to the U.S. State Department, more than 40 civilian planes around the world have been hit by surface-to-air missiles.  In 2003, Iraqi insurgents hit a DHL cargo plane with a missile in Baghdad.  Though on fire, the plane was able to land safely.  Four years later, militants knocked a Russian-built cargo plane out of the sky over Somalia, killing all 11 crew members.

Now there are calls in Congress to give jets that fly overseas the same protection military aircraft have.

"I think we should ensure that the wide-bodied planes all have this protection," said Sen. Boxer, who first spoke to ABC News about the surface-to-air security threat in 2006.  "And that's a little more than 500 of these planes."

According to Boxer, it would cost about a million dollars a plane for a system that has been installed and successfully tested over the last few years, directing a laser beam into the incoming missile.

"For us to sit idly by and not do anything when we could protect 2 billion passengers over the next 20 years [with] a relatively small amount of money [from] the Department of Defense, I think that's malfeasance," said Boxer.  "I think that's wrong."

And it could be more practical than trying to round up all the missing Libyan missiles.

"Once these missiles walk away from these facilities, they're very difficult to get back, as the CIA realized in Afghanistan," said Bouckaert.

When the Afghan mujahideen were fighting the Soviets more than two decades ago, the CIA supplied the Afghans with 1,000 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, which had a devastating effect on Soviet military aircraft.  After the Soviets had retreated, however, the CIA spent millions of dollars trying to buy back the remaining missiles from the Afghan fighters.  According to Bouckaert, the CIA spent up to $100,000 apiece to reacquire the Stingers.

"In Libya we're talking about something on the order of 20,000 surface-to-air missiles," said Bouckaert.  "This is one of the greatest stockpiles of these weapons that has ever gone on the loose."

Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, which advises President Obama, says that a State Department expert "is on the ground in Libya working with the [Transitional National Council]," the rebels' interim government, to develop a "control and destruction program" for the missiles.  Vietor also said the administration has sent five specialists to help the TNC "secure, recover and destroy" weapons, including surface-to-air missiles.

Said Vietor, "Since the beginning of the crisis, we have been actively engaged with our allies and partners to support Libya's efforts to secure all conventional weapons stockpiles, including recover, control, and disposal of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles." Given the sheer number that have gone missing, however, experts agree the danger from these missing missile systems is very real.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Flights Disrupted After Volcanoes Erupt in Chile and Eritrea

File photo. Digital Vision/Thinkstock(SANTIAGO) -- Flights are being disrupted in over two continents after the eruption of volcanoes in Chile and Eritrea.

The Puyehue-Cordon-Caulle range of volcanoes erupted on June 4, emitting a plume of ash that is spreading through parts of South America. Over the weekend the ash cloud spread towards Australia and New Zealand after winds changed direction. Flights are experiencing delays or cancellations in Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand among other nations in the region.

In East Africa, after a series of earthquakes in Eritrea, the Nabro volcano erupted, causing an ash cloud over the region. The Volcanic Ash Advisory Center in Toulouse, France issued an advisory stating that the emissions had reduced. However, the ash cloud has spread to Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and to the Middle East. Flights in the region are experiencing delays.

The ash cloud prompted Secretary Hillary Clinton to cut short her trip to Tanzania, Zambia and Ethiopia.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio´╗┐


Brits, French Ask NATO Allies for More Planes in Libya

US State Department(LONDON) -- The U.S. is confident that NATO can handle the heavy lifting in the mission to stymie Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces, but the alliance can't do the job if they run out of ground-attack jets.

With the U.S. only assuming what's described as a "support role," it means there'll be no American strike aircraft available, except for emergencies.  That leaves Britain and France to provide most of the war jets.

NATO say it's been able to fly sorties without a problem this week to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya and an arms embargo as Gadhafi loyalists continue fighting rebels for control of the country.

The new concern is having enough ground-attack jets on hand to protect civilian populations.  At the moment, NATO says the number is sufficient but with most of the planes flown by two members, Britain said Thursday it's time that others in the alliance send more aircraft.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is also getting involved, calling upon his counterparts in Italy, Spain and Belgium to contribute more hardware.

Meanwhile, Libyan rebels alleged Thursday that a NATO airstrike left two of their fighters dead and more than a dozen wounded near the eastern oil port of Brega.  If true, it's the second "friendly fire" incident in less than a week, which is primarily due to the coalition's poor coordination with anti-Gahdafi forces.´╗┐

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio