The widow of a high-profile financial analyst is filing a wrongful death lawsuit against Southwest Airlines, claiming a flight crew left her husband in an airplane bathroom when he desperately needed help, even treating him like an out-of-control passenger.
Richard Ilczyszyn had made a name for himself in the finance world running a successful brokerage firm, but perhaps his most important job was husband and father. "The last thing he said to me was 'I can't wait to get home to see you girls,'" wife Kelly Ilczyszyn said.
Last September, the 46-year-old was flying home from a business trip when he suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone. Kelly believes he could have been saved.
"He should have been helped on the aircraft. If they just would have gotten help," she said.
His Southwest Airlines flight was preparing to land in Orange County, California, when flight attendants heard sounds from the rear restroom. According to the sheriff's report, a crew member pushed the door open slightly and saw him "slumped over," "groaning" and "crying."
The crew member said the person's foot was "wedged against the door" inside the room.
"One flight attendant said she opened the door and she saw the top of my husband's head and his head was down and he was just whimpering, and [she] left him there," Kelly said.
The airline told CBS News: "Crews treated the situation as a medical emergency... immediately arranging for first responders to meet the flight."
But Southwest called the Orange County Sheriff's Department describing an unruly passenger.
"Apparently there's a passenger in -- locked himself in the lav and is screaming and yelling," a voice on the phone call said.
The sheriff's department says that's why officers got everyone off the plane before opening the bathroom door. They found Ilczyszyn unresponsive and only then called for medical help.
"The paramedics should have met the aircraft. Absolutely. Absolutely. And he would be here today," Kelly said.
Kelly is a flight attendant herself on Southwest Airlines.
"I know if a passenger is in distress... we need to help them. We need to figure out, is he okay, does he need medical attention, what's going on. And so I was very confused why they didn't help my husband," she said.
Today Kelly is filing a wrongful death suit against Southwest and the flight crew.
"Our experts say these flight attendants and the crew, the captain, did not act reasonably based on the information that was before them," Kelly's attorney Andrew Speilberger said.
In an email, Southwest said: "Because the Crew was not successful at prying open the door, they were unable to fully assess his condition."
"Somebody that's head is down and there's no communication is somebody that's in distress, that needs help. That doesn't need a police officer. They need paramedics," Kelly said.
But heightened security concerns can create complications.
"We have been trained that any disruption in the cabin can be a diversion for another more serious security incident... and it's possible that they could not determine that that was not a serious security risk to the flight," said Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO.
Ilczyszyn never regained consciousness. Kelly described how difficult it was to tell her daughter, Sydney.
"That was the worst. My daughter and her father were so close," Kelly said. "I just said, daddy's not coming home. Daddy went to heaven."
What's left are the photos and the memories of the life they had.
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