BANGOR-ETNA, Maine – Dennis Hill’s dying wish was to visit family in Maine and then return to his Lakeland, Fla., home that overlooked the water.
Hill arrived in Etna two weeks ago to say his final farewell to his brother and two sons, but he never made it back to his Florida house, where he loved to drink a cup of coffee in the morning and watch the neighborhood alligator.
When Bangor-area doctors told Hill’s family that the Vietnam veteran, who had seven brain tumors, two lung tumors and liver cancer, would not survive a return drive to Florida, they bought two plane tickets aboard Allegiant Air. The nonstop flight departed at 12:30 p.m. Saturday from Bangor International Airport and landed just before 4 p.m. at Orlando Sanford International Airport.
But when the jet landed in Florida, Hill and his wife were not on board.
Allegiant refused to fly Hill home.
“The pilot said he would not allow him to fly on the plane, and the reason he gave — if the plane crashed, nobody would be able to help him,” said Richard Brackett, Hill’s brother.
An Allegiant spokeswoman confirmed that Hill was denied boarding. She wrote in an e-mail that the pilot had concerns about Hill traveling, and he contacted MedLink, a third-party company that provides medical opinions to determine whether airlines passengers are medically fit to fly.
“After consulting with [MedLink], it was determined that it would be prudent if the customer did not fly on the flight,” the spokeswoman wrote. She did confirm the Hills received a full refund for the tickets.
MedLink representatives were unavailable Tuesday to outline the particular reasons why Hill was not allowed to fly.
When BIA Director Rebecca Hupp learned of the incident on Tuesday, she said airlines have to weigh one’s right to travel with the safety of all passengers.
“Air travel, while not inherently dangerous, can be taxing on the body,” Hupp said.
Brackett said his brother used a wheelchair, but did not require an oxygen tank or an IV drip. Hill may have been a little sedated when he boarded, Brackett said, because a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor suggested he take an anti-anxiety pill and pain medication before the flight.
“I have no earthly idea” why they wouldn’t let him on, Brackett said.
In a follow-up e-mail, Allegiant said the company could not allow Hill to fly because he did not have medical assistance. Brackett contends that his brother did not need aid. Hill’s wife was traveling with him, and hospice care was scheduled to begin once he arrived in Florida.
Instead, Hill missed his chance at hospice care and was taken to the Winter Haven Hospital’s emergency room late Sunday night. The nonstop drive from Maine to Florida was taxing on his tired body, said Brackett.
Hill died at the hospital early Tuesday morning.
He never made it back to his home on the water.
Brackett admits his brother was going home to die, but he said a quick flight, rather than a long drive, would have made his last hours more comfortable and may have given him an extra day or two.
“He wanted to die in his own home, which he didn’t get a chance to do,” Brackett said.
“It’s too late to help him, but maybe [exposing this] will help someone else. I think they owe his wife a big apology.”