Flying from New York Woman Gets Sick, Dies and Is Robbed in Brazil

Maria Petrucia Ribeiro da Silva Brazilian-American Maria Petrúcia Ribeiro da Silva, 68, died soon after arriving in Rio de Janeiro from New York aboard TAM Airlines. Despite warnings about her sickness still in the air there was no help waiting for her when the plane landed. To boot someone seems to have taken advantage of the situation to steal US$ 8,000 she was carrying.

According to TAM, the woman who had dual nationality and used to divide her time between Rio and New York, where her three American daughters live, started to feel ill when the aircraft was alredy getting to Rio de Janeiro.

The company issued a note explaining what happened: "The commander activated TAM's land staff so that they would ask for Infraero's (the Brazilian airport authority) medical help, which was done soon after, at 5:05 am. The plane landed and, at 5:28, opened its doors.

"The emergency assistance wasn't at the finger, and the  passenger disembarked accompanied by an airline company's official, who would take her to the emergency service at the airport. She fainted, however, when still in the finger (tube that links the aircraft's door to the airport's terminal also known as jet bridge). Infraero's medical service was activated a second time and it arrived at 5:53 am, taking the passenger in an ambulance."

The Infraero blames the airline company for the delay in providing assistance. According to that agency they acted promptly when warned about the problem.

New York airport attendant Sandra Williams, 37, the daughter of the deceased woman, flew immediately to Rio upon hearing the news of her mother's death. Her ordeal was just starting though. Red tape and corruption would make her trip even more memorable for all the bad reasons.

Arriving at the Coroner's Office (IML) she found out that someone had stolen all credit cards along with US$ 8,000 in cash, that da Silva was carrying to pay taxes for a family house in Macaé, Rio de Janeiro. Williams told reporters that her mother suffered from high pressure but was taking medicines to deal with that condition.

"I don't know what happened," said the daughter. "When my husband took her to the airport, she was feeling good and didn't complain of anything. Later, Tam called for my sister saying that she had died. My mother had US$ 8,000 but they tore her walled apart and took that money. All they left was US$ 10, the id-card and both passports."

Da Silva took TAM's flight 8079, which left New York on Friday. She owned a beauty parlor in New York and used to spend a few months of the year in the town of Macaé, a little over 100 miles from Rio city. It was about 2 am when she first fell ill and flight attendants were made aware of the situation.

The airplane's commander was told about the situation after the passenger had been given assistance. About three hours later, according to TAM's version, just before landing, the commander requested from the Rio tower control emergency assistance. When the Infraero's emergency finally arrived Maria Petrúcia was already dead.

Williams complained that she hadn't been allowed to see her mother's  body after hours of waiting. The Coroner's Office vice-director, Sérgio Simonsen, made some conjectures about what might have caused the woman's death, but said that a definitive answer would take at least a month. 

"Everything leads to believe that she was the victim of acute vein thrombosis, which can affect people who are motionless for a long time, as it happens to passengers of long flights. This is even known as traveler's syndrome: The person is sitting for a long time, a blood clot appears and it goes up the blood stream and it can be fatal."

Sandra says that her mother didn't get the medical attention she needed.

"She told she was not feeling good. They gave her water. She took the pressure medication. And, when she got out of the plane, she walked, left through the door, and then fainted. When she said she was sick,  they had to have a doctor waiting for her at the airport. They needed to be there and they weren't. There was a lack of communication. If a doctor were there maybe she would still be alive and I would not be here to take her body."

Sandra is adamant in believing her mother was robbed after she died: "She had US$ 8,000 inside a little bag that she herself cut and sewed. They tore the little bag apart, they took her driver's license, all her credit cards… They left only the Brazilian passport, the American passport and the little trinkets she carried inside her purse. She had a little wallet with US$ 10. She used to come here to pay the house taxes ."

The daughter also complained about the Brazilian bureaucracy, which prevented her from seeing the mother's body:

"I have asked over 100 thousand times to see her body. The first thing I said when I got out the plane was: I wish to see my mother's body. They then took me here, took me there. I told them: I want her things. And they told me: no, we need to do this first. We went there, did all the papers.

"Now, they took me to see my mother's belongings. When I open the suitcases, everything is missing from her purse: the money, the credit cards. They opened the wallet she had, they took everything out, there was no document inside the wallet."

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