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Irish Paralympic swimmer heartbroken after wheelchair was ‘broken’ on way to the Paralympics

Patrick Flanagan
Photo: UCD Sport/Facebook

Team Ireland Paralympic swimmer Patrick Flanagan said he was “gutted” when his wheelchair was broken on his way to Tokyo.

The 23-year-old flew from Ireland to London to catch a connecting flight to Japan to compete at the Games, which start on August 24, reports CNN.

However, he posted on Twitter that, “When the plane landed [at Heathrow] I was given my wheelchair back, except it was completely broken.”

In his tweet, Flanagan posted photos which appeared to show the broken wheels.

“Ultimately the wheels have been damaged so much that they no longer spin, along with a lot of other dents and scrapes,” he wrote.

He explained that Heathrow staff were “extremely apologetic.”

The official Heathrow account replied to Flanagan’s tweet saying, “We are sorry to hear that your wheelchair was damaged in transit to Heathrow and understand how distressing this would have been. Once our teams were made aware of what had happened on arrival into Heathrow, they did their best to assist with your onward journey.”

“We will work with the airline and the origin airport as a priority to investigate how the damage occurred and how it can be avoided in the future,” its tweet continued. “Please do get in touch if we can be of any assistance with any future travel through Heathrow.”

Flanagan said “an apology does very little for” him and outlined the difficulties he was having with the replacement wheelchair he was given.

“I was given an over sized airport wheelchair, filled out a claim form and sent on my way. I can barely push myself in this new chair and simple tasks like getting around my hotel room are extremely tough. And now I have to fly to Tokyo.

“This is not something that can happen to wheelchair uses. It’s unacceptable. Both airlines and baggage handlers need to pay more attention to chairs. My chair is my independence and takes months to be fitted and ordered. Mine is specifically sized to support my back, is lightweight so I can lift it into the car and is extremely sturdy. It would not be damaged easily.

Flanagan is slated to swim in the S6 100m backstroke and 400m freestyle for Team Ireland.

He posted an update later saying that a replacement chair was being flown to him.

“But not all wheelchair users are lucky enough to have a spare. The point remains the same, this should never happen!” he said.