Fog forces wheelchair odyssey

Last updated 13:56 20/02/2014
Lorri Mackness
ROBERT KITCHIN/Fairfax NZ
LONG ROAD AHEAD: Lorri Mackness was forced to ride her electric wheelchair from the Wellington Airport to a hotel 4kms away at midnight, after being stranded at the airport due to fog. The taxi company did not have a disabled capable taxi to take her to the hotel.

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Wellington's fog may have started the trouble, but for two wheelchair-bound stranded fliers, it was a lack of special taxis that put them on a life-threatening odyssey.

Aucklander Lorri Mackness was forced to travel 4 kilometres by electric wheelchair, occasionally on the 70kmh road itself, to get to the nearest available hotel last night.

She was attending a conference in Wellington when her flight home was cancelled by the fog.

At about 10.30pm, her group was lucky to secure accommodation at the Brentwood Hotel in Kilbirnie. But with a fused knee, Ms Mackness needed a wheelchair-accessible taxi with a hoist to transport her there.

She asked one of the drivers outside the airport to call a special vehicle.

''They said 'Oh no, no, we haven't got any taxi vans on the road' - which is true. It's the same in Auckland. I think they think disabled people don't go out at night and are all tucked up in bed.''

Ms Mackness pleaded in vain with taxi staff. ''Even when I said I had no choice, I'm going to have to go along the road [in an electric wheelchair] myself, they really just didn't care. They were just happy to leave me.''

She was forced to take the extremely risky 4km route to the hotel, with her friend Kaeti Rigarlsford. Ms Rigarlsford, also in a wheelchair, refused to leave Ms Mackness to make the trip by herself.

They were ''nearly hit a couple of times'' navigating Stewart Duff Dr, Calabar Rd and Cobham Dr on the late-night trip, which took 30 minutes.

''There's a part where there's just no footpath, so I was on the road and a car was coming along, but it wasn't changing lane. . .It was really scary.''

Several people, concerned for the pair's safety, stopped and helped them cross roads at various intersections.

The group this morning learned about a 24-hour wheelchair-accessible Wellington taxi service, but still believed the taxi staff last night needed to do more to help her. 

As of this afternoon, Ms Mackness had been told she may be able to get on a 3pm flight to Auckland.

''But you just don't know.''

Wellington Airport required taxis to facilitate passengers needs, spokesman Greg Thomas said.

''[We] work closely with them on this.''

Related story: Flights resume after fog delay

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- The Dominion Post

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