Flight keeps father from dying child

AK Airlines regrets inaction

Posted: Wednesday, June 21, 2000

For lack of room on an Alaska Airlines jet, a father couldn't be by his toddler's side when she died.

Brooke Williams, a 3-year-old, was badly burned in an early-morning house fire in Klawock on June 10. Due to an Alaska Airlines miscue, her father didn't get on a flight that would have let him be with his daughter and his wife before the little girl died of her injuries in a Seattle hospital, according to the father, Herbert Williams.

He got to the hospital an hour after his daughter died, he said.

``It was devastating,'' Williams said today.

Jack Evans, spokesman for the airline, said Williams' devastation won't be shared by another father in the future. The airline, he said, is contrite.

``It's our opinion that we made an incredible mistake here,'' he said.

Williams was out fishing when he found out his home was on fire. He rushed to shore and to the clinic in Klawock in time to fly with his daughter -- who suffered second- and third-degree burns in the blaze -- to Ketchikan.

There it was decided the little girl needed to be flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

There wasn't room for both mother and father on the medical flight, so the mother, Michelle, flew with the little girl. Williams arranged to follow with his parents on a 1:30 p.m. Alaska Airlines flight, he said.

Tickets were purchased, but he and his parents were put on standby, he said.

``They said they would announce over their PA (public address system), so my parents and I could fly down,'' Williams said. ``No announcement. No inquiries. It angered me. I was not happy.''

Family friends asked seat-assured passengers if they'd give up their spots, Williams said, but none did. The next flight, scheduled for 7:55 p.m., was delayed, he said. As it turned out, he got to the hospital too late.

``We got down to Seattle an hour after my daughter had passed away,'' Williams said.

He said he knows getting to the hospital sooner wouldn't have prevented his daughter's death, but just to be there with his daughter and his wife during such a critical time would have made a world of difference to him, he said.

Evans, the airline spokesman, said the staff in Ketchikan did what they were supposed to do based on strict airline policy. However, he said, they're very upset over what happened in Williams' case. The June 10 mistake, he said, won't be repeated.

This time of year, he said, Alaska flights are full with passengers concerned about connections to other flights. However, he said, the airline can deny passengers their seat to make room for others when an emergency takes place. Next time a similar situation arises, it will be handled differently, he said.

``If this happened again, this wouldn't happen again,'' Evans said.

Williams has received the same assurance from Alaska Airlines staff in Ketchikan.

``I guess the management didn't know what was going on,'' he said. ``Next time, no problem. At least the next family won't have this problem.''

Services for Brooke Williams were held over last weekend. Mother, father and a surviving 7-year-old son have found an apartment to live in for now. Neighbors have been a big help.

``The people of Prince of Wales Island really have come together for us,'' Williams said. ``It's really heart-warming.

``We're slowly pulling things back together. The support is great.''

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