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Special needs teen Joshua Arvin lost at airport after flight diverts to Tampa

9:16 AM, May 7, 2013   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida - It was supposed to be an easy flight from Idaho to Florida, with just a single stop. But when Joshua Arvin's US Airways flight was diverted to Tampa last Thursday, the 15-year-old with an Asperger's syndrome-like condition, was left in an unfamiliar city, not knowing what to do or who to ask for help.

"As soon as it changed from diverted to canceled, that's when I was worried," said Joshua's mother, Tracy, from her home in South Florida.

Tracy said she was keeping close tabs on her son's flight, and at the first sign of a problem she immediately called the airline.

"They basically said, 'We can't do anything, we can't contact the airport, we can't do anything, we don't know where the flight is going, we can't help you,'" recalled Tracy.

Frantic, she began calling airport police. By that time, investigators say her son had already made it to the baggage claim area and was spotted on airport security cameras leaving the airport in a cab.

Tracy later found out her son had tried to "charter" a bus to Tampa, but was told it would cost $5,000. Instead, he took a cab to the city bus station downtown, but was not allowed to board because he did not have identification.

"To be totally lost out in the world and to not know where he was and how he was getting home and not to know where anyone was, it had to be the most horribly frightening thing for my son," said Tracy.

It wasn't until hours later, at well after 11:00 at night, when Joshua was finally found by a good Samaritan wandering the streets of Tampa near Martin Luther King and 22nd Street.

"She asked him, 'Where are you trying to go?' and explained to him, 'You can't go back to the airport,' that it's closed up now, and asked if she could help him and that's when she called Joshua's dad."

Detective Lopez of the Tampa Police Department immediately sent officers to pick Joshua up until his parents could arrive from South Florida.

"I'm so grateful for him," said Joshua's mother. "Detective Lopez was so amazing. He knows Joshua has special needs, he asked if Joshua can get anything to eat."

Joshua's mother also thanks Donna, the good Samaritan who first found her son. "I'm sending her a thank you!"

US Airways said it takes the safety of all passengers seriously, but situations like this is why the airline does not accept responsibility for unaccompanied minors on connecting flight. "So many things can happen."

Joshua's mother said she has learned a lesson too. "Unaccompanied minor or not, make sure your son or daughter has a charged cell phone and knows to ask an adult for help."

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