Video: Wild ride

updated 12/25/2006 12:56:17 AM ET 2006-12-25T05:56:17

A holiday movie came to life when a snowstorm stranded some children traveling alone at Denver International Airport — including a 9-year-old who got lost in the terminal, leaving his frantic parents trying to track him down for hours by telephone.

But “Unaccompanied Minors,” the new Warner Brothers film about a group of kids stranded at a snowed-in airport during the holidays, is a comedy, and Cole Churchill’s parents aren’t laughing.

Cole, of Spokane, Wash., had been flying alone Wednesday morning to visit his father in Omaha, with a layover in Denver, when the storm dumped 25 inches of snow on Denver and forced the cancellation of all flights until Friday afternoon. Cole became one of nearly 5,000 stranded holiday travelers, including 20 children who had been flying solo on United Airlines.

Cole walked off the plane, unnoticed by airline workers, and called his mother in Spokane. “He didn’t know what to do, and he was scared,” his stepmother, Tammy Churchill, said.

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All unaccompanied minors are required to wear a badge identifying them as children who need escorts. United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said that Cole’s badge was covered by a jacket, but that workers still should have noticed him leaving the airplane.

She said an airline escort found Cole in a food court within two hours. United rushed to reroute him through Chicago because of the approaching storm, but he ended up sitting on a plane for three hours, unable to communicate with his family, Urbanski said.

“I apologize on behalf of United,” said Urbanski, who added that the airline was looking into issuing a refund to the family. “This blizzard was unprecedented. We tried so hard to get him out to Chicago, but we couldn’t.”

Cole spent two days in the airline’s unaccompanied minor room at the airport, which is equipped with televisions, toys and games, and is staffed by child-care workers.

Video: Travel tips The apology fell a little flat for the Churchills. Tammy Churchill said they were still furious and would demand a refund for the flight.

“We had absolutely no explanation, no apology that entire day,” Churchill said. “We basically got the cold shoulder. Everyone was too busy.”

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