Amputee's Artificial Legs Lost on Hawaiian Flight

Times Staff Writer

Roger D. Hughes Jr. lost two pieces of luggage at the Honolulu International Airport.

Hughes, 22, said he can get along without most of the items that were in his two blue canvas bags. He said he won't miss his Kodak Instamatic camera, or his several pairs of worn cutoff shorts or even his favorite blue Budweiser T-shirt.

What Hughes said he really misses are his artificial legs. Hughes, who had both legs amputated below the knee after he was run over by a train in Paramount at age 9, last saw his artificial limbs on Nov. 16 in Honolulu. The limbs, packed in a canvas bags, rode a conveyor belt past a metal detector into oblivion. Hughes boarded the plane in a wheelchair because his legs were sore, he said.

Keeps Sense of Humor

Now, though his loss is serious, he has retained his sense of humor about it.

"I've got to walk again," he said. "I'm getting tired of walking on my knees. I'm 6-foot-1 when I'm walking. I'm 3 feet now."

Russell Hoota, claims manager at Aloha Airlines Inc., acknowledged his company lost Hughes' luggage.

"Yes, his bags were checked with us, and to date we have not recovered them," he said in a telephone interview from his Honolulu office. Hoota said he understood why Hughes was upset with airline officials.

"In a way you can't blame the guy . . .. I'd be pretty angry too," Hoota said.

On Wednesday, Hughes received a check from Aloha Airlines for $1,250 and a letter informing him that the check was "payment in full." But Hughes is still unhappy because he said his artificial legs, custom-built for him at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in Downey, cost much more than that.

In fact, the legs cost $5,500, said Cecilia Jauregui, office administrator at Rancho Los Amigos.

But airline official Hoota said Hughes had not stated the value of the limbs when he checked his bags for his 8:15 p.m. flight from Hilo to Honolulu and that the airline had given him the maximum payment allowable under airline baggage contracts.

In a letter to Hughes, Hoota said: "Please accept our apologies for this unfortunate incident . . . . We hope we'll have the opportunity to make your future flights at Aloha Airlines pleasurable in every respect."

Hughes, who lives on Social Security disability payments, said he does not know how he can afford to replace the legs. In desperation, he called Norwalk City Councilman Marcial (Rod) Rodriquez, who is writing a letter of protest to the airlines and has referred Hughes to the city's legal aid services.

"The (airline's) lack of humanity is what bothers me," Rodriquez said.

Hughes, who despite his accident played high school football on artificial legs and still plays wheelchair basketball, is not the type to feel sorry for himself.

Reflecting on the past three months, Hughes said his knees were getting sore from walking on them but quickly added he missed his artificial legs most at Christmas.

"I couldn't put a star on top of my Christmas tree because I'm 3 feet tall, and I bought a 6-foot tree," he said.

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