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Owners of dog who died on United Airlines flight speak out

The dog was a birthday gift for 11-year-old Sophia 

Chelsea Ritschel
in New York
Wednesday 14 March 2018 16:10 GMT
Dog owners speak out after puppy dies on United Airlines flight

The family whose pet dog died during a United flight after an attendant forced them to stow it in an overhead compartment have tearfully spoken out.

Appearing on Good Morning America, 11-year-old Sophia Ceballos broke down in tears as she said: “He was a member of our family. He was like my brother to me."

Sophia, along with her mother Catalina Robledo, her two-month-old brother, and 10-month old French bulldog, Kokito, were returning home from Houston, Texas, where Sophia’s father is working, when the tragedy occurred.

On the United Airlines flight back to LaGuardia in New York, a flight attendant reportedly repeatedly told Catalina that Kokito must be stored in an overhead bin, rather than in the seat in front of them.

According to multiple reports from fellow passengers, the flight attendant pressured Catalina to stow the dog above her seat, despite her pleas.

Sophia said: “We were gonna put him under the seat and then the flight attendants came, she said: ‘You have to put him up there because it’s going to block the path.’”

“And we’re like, ‘It’s a dog, it’s a dog.’ And she’s like: ‘It doesn’t matter you still have to put it up there,’’ Ceballos recalled. “She helped her put it up, and she just closed it like it was a bag.”

The family’s claims that the flight attendant was informed there was a dog inside were confirmed by fellow passenger, June Lara, who said the attendant even assured the family the dog would be safe in the overhead bin.

Throughout the three-hour flight, multiple reports have stated Kokito’s barking could be heard - but the dog stayed where he was until the flight landed.

According to Maggie Gremminger, a fellow passenger who described the initial scene and the outcome on Twitter, the dog barked until the plane hit turbulence, about 30 minutes into the flight.

At that point, the dog was silent. Once the flight had landed, Catalina went to retrieve Kokito - but it was too late.

Sophia told Today: “My mom got up and got the bag, and she took him out, and she’s like: ‘Kokito, Kokito, wake up!’ and he didn’t.”

Passengers described the horrific moment Catalina noticed the dog had died and began to cry in the middle of the aeroplane aisle.

Sophia cries as she describes the moment Kokito was found unresponsive (ABC)

Gremminger recalled to People Magazine: “A stranger offered to hold her newborn while she sat on the floor, there in the aeroplane aisle. She was holding her dog and rocking back and forth. Her daughter was also crying.”

According to Gremminger, the flight attendant appeared "shocked and frazzled" at the end of the flight, and claimed she was unaware that a dog was inside the carrier.

“It was absolutely horrible,” Gremminger said of the incident.

The flight attendants union told Today that flight attendants are instructed to never put pets in the overhead bin.

Sarah Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants told Today: "Our procedures are to instruct pet owners to put their pets underneath the seat in front of them, never in an overhead bin" and “There is not a single flight attendant out there who could understand why this would happen.”

United Airlines has taken responsibility for what they called the “tragic accident,” - which goes against their pet policy that states pets must be stowed under the seats in front of the passenger.

A spokesperson for the airline told The Independent: “This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.”

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