Turkish airline loses body of Bronx man en route to funeral: lawsuit

Two New York families experienced the same spooky nightmare when the bodies of their deceased loved ones went missing, according to lawsuits.

A Bronx family has accused Turkish Airlines of losing the remains of their patriarch en route to his funeral in Kazakhstan, while a Brooklyn clan has accused their dead mother’s body of arriving 11 days late for services in Puerto Rico .

“I can’t talk about this without tears in my eyes,” said Nagima Alzhan, 63, whose husband Serik Berlinbayev died of liver problems in a Bronx hospital in December 2019.

Nagima immigrated to the United States in 2002 after winning a lottery green card, learning English, and working her way up to become a registered nurse. Berlinbayev, who was a government official in her native Kazakhstan, joined her here in 2015, she said.

“I had two jobs. He took care of us,” she said of her 35-year-old husband.

When he died, Nagima paid $15,000 to a local undertaker to embalm the remains and arrange transport to her home country so that Berlinbayev could have a funeral and be buried within seven days of his death, as per Muslim custom .

Serik BerlinBaye
Berlinbayev died of liver problems in a Bronx hospital in December 2019.
family handout

His body was put on a flight from Kennedy Airport on December 19, 2019, and was scheduled to arrive in Kazakhstan on December 21, when about 100 people were supposed to attend the funeral.

But the remains never showed up.

“No one answered the phone,” she recalls. “At that moment we just cried. It was terrible. It’s not a piece, I don’t know, anything – it’s human. It’s unbelievable what we’ve been through.”

Serik BerlinBaye
Berlinbayev worked as a government official in Kazakhstan before joining his wife in the United States in 2015.

Berlinbayev’s body, lost in Istanbul, was eventually found, but only after the family was forced to break the seven-day habit. Turkish Airlines did not apologize, she added. Nagima is seeking unspecified damages against the airline in its lawsuit in the Bronx Supreme Court.

Ana Rivera’s family was also traumatized, according to a Brooklyn superior court.

Rivera, a married mother of two, died of complications from pneumonia on March 31, 2020 at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center. The family hired Paccione Funeral Directors on Staten Island to ship Rivera’s body to Puerto Rico on American Airlines, where it was scheduled to arrive on April 8, 2020, according to court documents. But the body didn’t turn up until April 19 — and decomposed, according to the family charged in the lawsuit against Paccione, American Airlines and others.

Ana Rivera
Ana Rivera died of complications from pneumonia in March 2020.
family handout

“The law gives human remains a special status and you can’t treat a deceased person like a piece of luggage or cargo,” said attorney Mark Seitelman, representing both families. “It has to be treated with respect, it has to be delivered in a timely manner to the mourners waiting to receive it.”

Turkish Airlines did not respond to a message requesting comment. American Airlines said it would investigate the allegations.

Rocco Paccione, owner of the Staten Island funeral home, noted that Rivera’s death came as deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic were taking an incredible toll on resources across the five boroughs’ health and funeral services.

“We have received a number of instructions. We followed our instructions and Ms. Rivera came home,” he said, declining to comment further on the pending litigation. Turkish airline loses body of Bronx man en route to funeral: lawsuit


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