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Panorama City Woman Safe After 5-Day Airport Ordeal

Times Staff Writer

A 70-year-old Panorama City woman in poor health apparently wandered around Los Angeles International Airport for five days after missing a plane and becoming disoriented, authorities said Monday.

Irene Rodriguez was being treated at Tarzana Regional Medical Center after going without food or daily medicine for diabetes and heart problems during most of the ordeal, which ended Sunday, officials said. Her condition was listed as “alert and coherent but agitated,” hospital spokeswoman Patricia Klein said.

“She was at the airport from Wednesday to Sunday,” Klein said. “It left her in a very agitated state.”

“She is a darling little lady--like everybody’s grandmother--and she is shattered by the whole experience,” said Los Angeles Police Sgt. John Rygh.

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Hospital and airport officials, along with police here and in Lincoln, Neb., Rodriguez’s intended destination, were still attempting Monday to piece together how the woman became lost and why it took several days for her to receive help.

Medicine Missing

Authorities said Rodriguez, her son, Robin Breadwell, 39, and her daughter, Emily Breadwell, 47, were relocating from Panorama City to Nebraska but could not afford for all three of them to fly there. Because Rodriguez was not in good health, her children bought a plane ticket for her while they took a bus to their new home, Klein said family members told doctors.

Rodriguez took a shuttle bus from Van Nuys to LAX on Wednesday, checked her luggage with Braniff but for unknown reasons did not get on the Braniff flight for which her children had prepaid a ticket, authorities said.

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After missing the flight, she apparently wandered the airport and used up what little money she had to buy food. She did not take her daily medication because it was in the luggage and authorities said that that resulted in her becoming disoriented.

On Saturday morning, Rodriguez approached a Travelers Aid Society booth at the airport and asked for help, authorities said. “All she had was the dress she was wearing and water out of the drinking fountain,” Rygh said.

Susan Edelstein, director of the society’s office at LAX, said society members attempted to contact Rodriguez’s son and daughter but failed because the pair apparently were in transit to Nebraska.

Apartment Rented

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The following day Travelers Aid arranged for Rodriguez to be returned to her Panorama City apartment, but once there the woman found her apartment had been rented to a new family. Alarmed by Rodriguez’s ill health, the landlady called police and Rodriguez was taken to the hospital.

Police initially reported that Rodriguez had been abandoned by her family. She had indicated to police and Travelers Aid personnel that she believed her children no longer wanted her. Rygh said officers could not confirm that there had been a prepaid airline ticket and for an unknown reason, pages containing the phone numbers of relatives had been ripped out of a phone book she had with her. Because her bank account had been closed out, police filed a grand theft report, he said.

But authorities learned later that Rodriguez’s son and daughter had filed a missing persons report with police in Lincoln after arriving there and finding their mother had not taken the airline flight. The mother and children spoke by telephone Monday and Rodriguez will fly to Nebraska after her condition improves, Klein said. Rodriguez declined to be interviewed.

“She doesn’t want to talk about it,” Klein said. “She just wants to get to Nebraska.” The Times could not reach family members for comment Monday.

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Authorities said it was unusual that a disoriented person could wander in an airport for so long without being noticed.

“Normally airport personnel and police approach people like that all the time and ask if they need help,” Edelstein said. “But with her there was no contact until Saturday. We can’t even verify she was actually there the whole time. There was no contact. She was unobtrusive and kept to herself.”

Lee Nichols, spokesman for the airport, said that while security officers, airlines and services such as Travelers Aid attempt to come to the aid of lost or confused travelers, the facility was so large that it was possible Rodriguez could have gone unnoticed.

“An airport is kind of a city unto itself,” he said.

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