PORTLAND, Ore. -- The family of a Spokane, Wash. woman is suing Alaska Airlines and another company in connection with a woman's fall down a Portland International Airport escalator in June. The woman died four months after the fall, and family members allege that neglect at the airport contributed to her injuries.

According to the wrongful death lawsuit, filed earlier this week in King County Superior Court, Bernice Kekona, 75, was traveling from Hawaii to Spokane with a transfer of planes in Portland. The grandmother was disabled with an amputated leg and other health issues.

At the Portland airport, while trying to get to the gate to her connecting flight, she fell down an escalator, resulting in significant injuries that led to her death, the suit states.

The suit also names Huntleigh USA, which contracts with Alaska Airlines to help assist passengers in transit. Kekona's family said that they had requested gate-to-gate service for their mother, who was disabled and needed wheelchair assistance.

According to the complaint, Huntleigh USA gate agents met Kekona as she deplaned in Portland and provided her a wheelchair ride to the top of the skybridge. She then was left alone and became confused, leading her to tumble in her wheelchair down an escalator, an incident captured on surveillance video.


Kekona was assisted by emergency workers after her fall and was transported to a Portland hospital for treatment. In September, she entered a Spokane hospital and for care of a leg wound, caused, her lawyers contend, by the initial Portland airport fall. She died two weeks later.

Huntleigh USA declined to comment Wednesday, according to news reports.

Federal law requires that airlines assist disabled passengers in transit. Alaska Airlines confirmed that Kekona received initial assistance but said she declined additional aid while navigating through the Portland airport.

Bernice Kekona, with family. Photo from Kekona's attorney. 2017
Bernice Kekona, with family. Photo from Kekona's attorney. 2017

In a statement to KXLY TV in Spokane, Alaska Airlines issued the following response:

“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."

"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. 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."

Kekona wrongful-death lawsuit against Alaska Airlines, contractor by KGW News on Scribd