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American Airlines

Airline loses corpse for four days  Sep 10, 2008

American Airline's sent the body of a Brooklyn mom to the wrong country for burial - and then callously demanded more money to fix the screwup, the widower and others involved in a lawsuit charged Monday.

Miguel Olaya said he made arrangements to send the remains of his wife, Teresa, to their native Ecuador after she died in late March of cancer at age 57.

Instead, American mistakenly shipped her 1,400 miles away - to Guatemala - he said.

"I went early [to Guayaquil, Ecuador] to make the funeral arrangements," he said. "When I got to the airport to pick up the body, they told me they didn't know where she was. I was desperate."

Olaya, 60, a day laborer who has lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, and his 16-year-old daughter drove to the airport every day for four days, but got the same story.

"My daughter was crying, saying, 'Where's mama, where's mama?'" Olaya said.

Finally, someone at American Airlines told them the body had been in Guatemala City, he said.

The remains arrived in Guayaquil on April 4.

"How could they lose a body?" asked lawyer Richard Villar. "I mean this is American Airlines, not a small-time operation. And it's not like it was a purse or something."

After the mistake was discovered, the airline even wanted to charge an extra $321 to ship Teresa's body to the right place, said the director of DeRiso Funeral Home in Bay Ridge, which made the arrangements.

"I said, 'This is adding insult to injury,'" said Cathy DeRiso.

She said she gave American the billing information she had prepared with the correct destination.

It turns out, DeRiso said, the goof was by someone at the airline who typed in the wrong airport code - GUA for Guatemala instead of GYE for Guayaquil.

Once the airline verified that it made the mistake, it waived the charge.

American declined to comment.

Olaya is also suing DeRiso, claiming that the body was badly embalmed and decomposed in the Guatemala City airport - canceling plans for a three-day wake. DeRiso denies that charge.

Airline loses corpse for four days

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