© 2018 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Emirates Airlines crew ‘beat’ 71-year-old Nigerian, ‘deny him water, food for eight hours’
David Ukesone, a 71-year- old Nigerian, has narrated how Emirates Airline flight crew punched and taped his mouth while aboard a flight from Dubai to Chicago to reunite with his family.
According to Howard Schaffner, his lawyer, the septuagenarian had just received a visa to enter the US and was travelling to join his wife, who had immigrated four months earlier. His adult son and daughter had also immigrated.
According to ABC news, Ukesone, a retired police officer in Nigeria who had never been in a flight in the last 35 years, was brutalized by flight attendants because he sat in a wrong seat.
The incident happened on January 23 after the victim left Nigeria en route Dubai for the US.
He was eight hours away from landing at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport when a dispute with flight attendants turned hostile.
“He apparently sits in the wrong seat and was told to change seat by a flight attendant,” Schaffner said. “He didn’t think he was in the wrong seat and there was an argument and, at some point, he was hit.”
Though Emirates Airlines released a statement confirming an incident did occur, it said a passenger had to be restrained by cabin crew due to unruly behaviour during the flight.
“Emirates can confirm that a passenger on flight EK235 from Dubai to Chicago on 23 January had to be restrained by cabin crew due to unruly behaviour during the flight,” it said.
“The passenger was handed over to the authorities on arrival in Chicago. The safety of our passengers and crew is of the utmost importance and will not be compromised.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank the other passengers on the flight for their understanding, in particular the individuals who had assisted our crew during the flight.”
But Schaffner said Ukesone first flew from Nigeria to Dubai “with no incident at all”.
After a layover on January 23, Ukesone received a boarding pass to sit in seat 35D on Emirates flight EK 235, which departed at 9:45 p.m. for Chicago.
The dispute began when he abandoned his seat to use the bathroom at the rear of the plane. When he returned, Schaffner said, he miscalculated and sat in a seat that wasn’t 35D.
Ukesone sat down in a seat that was “very close” to 35D, Schaffner continued, but did not attempt to upgrade himself to first class or occupy a seat meant for the crew.
An exchange between Ukesone and a flight attendant, he added, left him confused.
“He was asked to move and he wants to take his bag in the overhead compartment with him,” the attorney said.
He also believed he was “in the right” and didn’t understand why they wanted him to move.
“They told him he was in the wrong seat and they laid hands on him to move him and that’s when everything escalated,” Schaffner said.
Ukesone, he said, speaks and understands English, but “he has some difficulty understanding” it when it’s spoken by someone who isn’t Nigerian.
The argument intensified and, Schaffner said, a member of the flight crew allegedly struck him “at least once”, leaving a “large welt on his face”.
Ukesone also had “significant wounds on his wrists and ankles” that Schaffner believes were caused by a hemp rope allegedly used to restrain him from his ankles to his head.
Schaffner said Ukesone claims his “mouth was taped” and the flight crew allegedly left him alone to ride out the rest of flight “without any food or water”.
Once the plane arrived, the Nigerian man’s family waited in the international terminal for hours.
“He’s waiting for hours and he starts to check and asks people about his dad,” Schaffner said, adding that he ultimately was told that his father was pulled off the plane and admitted to the hospital.
When the plane arrived at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Schaffner said Ukesone was wheeled out on a stretcher and taken to the University of Chicago Medical Centre, where he was allegedly treated for lacerations and bruising, and where he remained for several days.
The man was disoriented after being hospitalized, Schaffner said.
Until last week’s two international flights, Schaffner said it had been 35 years since Ukesone, a retired police officer, flew on an airplane.
He added that his client wasn’t on any medication, hadn’t drunk alcohol and has no history of mental illness.
“The man did nothing more than sit in the wrong seat,” his attorney said. “Even if he’s in the wrong seat you don’t have to beat the guy.”
Despite the airline’s statement that the passenger in question was turned over to local authorities, the victim’s attorney is unaware of any criminality.
Ukesone has not been charged with a crime, Schaffner said, and no police report or other paperwork claiming criminal behaviour has been produced.
His lawyer is planning to take legal action.
“There’s no question we’re going to file a lawsuit,” he said, expressing hopes that other passengers who flew with Ukesone that day would be bold enoguh to come forward.