updated 3/17/2004 8:52:35 PM ET 2004-03-18T01:52:35

Delta Air Lines lost an 80-year-old man with Alzheimer’s disease who was supposed to have been given an escort between flights in the Atlanta airport, his relatives said.

Antonio Ayala disappeared Monday after his flight landed and he was not found until nearly 24 hours later, near a bus station in downtown Atlanta, several miles from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Police took him to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he was undergoing dialysis treatment Wednesday for a kidney ailment and was listed in good condition, officials said.

Family members said Ayala could have gone into a coma without dialysis.

Ayala was flying from New York’s La Guardia Airport to El Paso, Texas, and had to change planes in Atlanta.

“He was supposed to be escorted from one plane to another, and it never happened,” said Ayala’s granddaughter, Cecilia Flowers of El Paso.

Delta spokeswoman Peggy Estes said the airline was not told of Ayala’s medical condition and it cannot be held responsible for the whereabouts of every adult passenger.

Delta ‘working’ with the family
“We are working very closely with the family and we are very pleased the family has been reunited,” Estes said.

The airline flew Ayala’s relatives to Atlanta and housed them in a hotel while they waited for him to be released from the hospital.

“He’s just glad that I’m here,” Ayala’s son, Antonio Ayala Jr., said at the hospital. “He told me, ‘I’ve been crying a lot,’ but he can’t recall what events” happened.

It is not the first time that a person with Alzheimer’s has been lost by an airline. In 2001, Margie Dabney, 70, became separated from her husband during an American Airlines stopover at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Dabney was never found. Last year, her husband, Joe Dabney, agreed to an undisclosed settlement with American Airlines. He had sought $10 million.

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