An obese, one-legged woman from the Bronx died in Hungary from kidney failure, after the airline she was scheduled to take refused to take her back to the United States.
Vilma Soltesz, 56, died in Hungary after being kicked off three different flights in an attempt to come back to the US, says her widower, Janos Soltesz.
“All we wanted was to come back home to get her treatment,” said Mr. Soltesz, a Staten Island Ferry security guard.
Vilma, who weighed around 425 lbs., had only one leg and used a wheelchair.
She and her husband of 33 years traveled to Hungary on Delta and KLM airlines on September 17th.
There they had spent several weeks relaxing at a holiday house they owned in the Hungarian countryside. It was a trip they took almost every year.
When they attempted to return to New York on October 15th so Vilma could resume treatment with her doctors, they were told by KLM, after boarding the plane, that the airline could not accommodate Vilma.
“They tried to fit her into the back of the plane, but they didn’t have an extension to secure her,” Mr. Soltesz, 56, said.
Mr. Soltesz was told that they did not have a seat belt extender for her, nor could the seat back handle her weight.
Mr. Soltesz said his wife was already seated when they were asked to leave.
“It appeared on the passenger’s return that it was not physically possible for her to board the aircraft, despite every effort made by KLM to this end. A seat or belt extender did not offer a solution, either,” KLM spokeswoman, Ellen van Ginkel, said.
Airline staff told the couple they would try to get her on a different flight. They sat at the airport for five hours.
According to attorney Holly Ostrov Ronai, who is working on a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the airlines accusing them of violating laws protecting the disabled, the couple was then told to drive five hours to Prague to catch a Delta plane that could accommodate Vilma as a disabled person.
“This absolutely contributed to the cause of her death,” Ms. Ronai said. “They managed to get her over there and were obligated to get her home.”
But in Prague, the Delta staff told the couple the airline’s plastic wheelchair couldn’t hold her weight.
Staff were also unable to put her on the sky-lift elevator, according to the airline.
“After the operating carrier in Budapest was physically unable to board Mrs. Soltesz on its flight, and despite a determined good-faith effort by Delta in Prague, we were also physically unable to board her on our aircraft,” said Delta spokesman Russel Cason.
The couple was forced to drive back to their holiday home and contact their travel agent in New York to make new travel accommodations.
Their travel agent said they could get on an October 22th Lufthansa flight to New York via Frankfurt, which would be able to accommodate her size.
Trouble again struck, however, as the airline crew, helped by the local fire department, were unable to move Vilma from her wheelchair to the three seats assigned to her.
After 30 minutes with no success, the captain ordered them off the plane.
“We had 140 passengers on board, and they had connections and needed to travel,” said Lufthansa spokesman Nils Haupt. “The question was never the seat belt. The question was the mobility of the passenger.”
Vilma became sicker and sicker, and neither she nor her husband trusted the Hungarian doctors to cater to her needs, especially considering her extensive medical history, with kidney disease and diabetes playing critical roles in her deteriorating condition.
“She was very ill and did not trust that the hospitals in former communist Hungary could attend to her needs,” he said.
Mr. Soltesz found Vilma dead two days later and buried her in Hungary.
“I’m lonely now. Wherever I am going, I am just going alone. I am missing her a lot,” he said, adding he was grateful to work his Staten Island ferry job on Thanksgiving to keep his mind off his late wife.
“There were only two women in my life – my mother, who I lived with for 23 years, and Vilma, who I lived with for 33 years,” Mr Soltesz said.
James Gilbert | Elite.