Victoria Kong's disappearance raises questions

A Gaithersburg woman’s death is opening a dialogue over the care of aging loved ones who show signs of memory loss.

The body of 83-year-old Victoria Kong was found Monday, three days after she arrived on a flight from Barbados and vanished.

Kong's family says they ordered wheelchair assistance from American Airlines for when her flight landed at Reagan National last Friday.

“We expected that she would be escorted from her seat on the plane with assistance to us at baggage claim,” says Alexandria Anderson, Kong’s granddaughter.

But after Kong’s body was found{} near Gravelly Point, some wondered whether the airline did it job.

“Were they there escorting her?” Sharon Fogarty of Fort Belvoir, Va. asks. “I mean, did she just get off the plane by herself? That was my big question.”

American Airlines tells ABC7 Kong’s family made no mention of any memory or cognitive issues when they requested a wheelchair. Had the airline known this, it said, “Our agents are trained to advise that we do not provide supervision of passengers and a companion is necessary” to ensure safe travel. Her labeled wheelchair was waiting for her, but Kong, who was mobile, walked right by.

“They’re frightened, they’re in unfamiliar surroundings with people they don’t know, afraid to ask, wanting to remain independent and so they walk by,” says Susan Kudla Finn of the Alzheimer’s Association, National Capital Area chapter.

While Kong had not been diagnosed with dementia, experts say as soon as forgetfulness starts to have loved ones tested and enroll them in the National Media Alert/Safe Return program. Airlines will often give a relative a special pass to meet someone directly at the gate.

The cause of Kong’s death is still undetermined, but what happened underscores the need to make sure that any special travel accommodations or needs are clearly understood.