Virgin Australia is conducting an investigation following an incident where a prominent quadriplegic doctor, former Queensland Australian of the Year, Dinesh Palipana, fell to the ground after an airline ground staff allegedly mishandled his wheelchair.
The incident occurred at Brisbane Airport (BNE) as Palipana was boarding a flight to Melbourne Airport (MEL) with his mother and two carers to give a disability talk.
According to Palipana’s mother, who is a rehabilitation counselor and a disability advocate herself, the airline ground staff allegedly disregarded her and the carers’ instructions, and even suggested that they board the aircraft first without Palipana.
Palipana ended up being thrown off his wheelchair when the crew made a sharp turn around a corner.
Palipana told Australian media outlet 7News that the incident made him feel “shocked and embarrassed” and he was awaiting medical test results to see if the fall had caused any physical injuries.
Award-winning Palipana, who is a founding member of Doctors with Disabilities Australia, received support from disability groups around the world.
The Disability Rights Advocacy Service (DRAS) group denounced the incident, calling it “unacceptable”, adding that more training needs to be given to all staff.
A Virgin Australia spokesperson told Australian news outlet ABC News that it sincerely “apologizes for and deeply regrets the incident,” and that it had initiated an investigation.
“We immediately initiated an investigation into the incident and will continue to work to ensure this does not happen again,” the spokesperson said. “Virgin Australia takes its responsibilities to support guests traveling with specific needs, including mobility assistance, extremely seriously.”