Elderly woman's handbag stolen at airport security when pacemaker set off alarm

An 84-year-old woman is calling for Melbourne airport to change how it screens elderly passengers after her handbag was snatched during a security search when her pacemaker set off an alarm.

Helen Sweetnam was travelling alone to Mt Gambier, South Australia, to meet her daughter before the pair flew on to Queensland’s Magnetic Island for a family reunion, when she was stopped by Melbourne Airport security for a pat down.

While waiting for a female officer, as was protocol, her handbag was stolen from the conveyer belt.

The senior citizen, from Red Hill, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, told Yahoo7 security was able to check CCTV to track down a woman who took her handbag, and return it.

While being stopped by Melbourne Airport security after her pacemaker triggered an alarm, Helen Sweetnam’s handbag was stolen from the conveyer belt. Source: Helen Sweetnam

But despite the woman telling security the bag was taken by mistake, Mrs Sweetnam’s wallet was missing containing $630 in cash, her ID and medical documents, as well as a mobile phone and pearl earrings, she said.

The octogenarian was left in an unfamiliar city without a phone to contact her daughter who was coming to meet her, and no money or ID.

“I had no idea if I was going to get any help. You would think if they see a woman with a pacemaker, they should think her heart’s not good. She doesn’t need to be put through the extra anxiety.”

Luckily the elderly traveller spotted her daughter coming off her own flight from Tasmania, who was able to accompany her on the rest of her trip and not let the experience sour their holiday.

Mrs Sweetnam wanted to prevent the ordeal happening to someone else, so she tried to contact the airport about the July 6 incident when she returned home from her trip, but says she “got fobbed off”.

The 84-year-old is pushing to change the way elderly passengers are processed by Melbourne Airport security. Source: Getty

After a “merry-go-round” of being transferred to different airport personnel, including phone calls to security, the Australian Federal Police, and contacting the airport via email and Facebook, she claims nobody took her concerns seriously.

“I can’t understand how they can be so insensitive. It’s rather horrifying when you find nobody takes notice.”

Mrs Sweetnam said she didn’t care so much about the money that was stolen, she just hoped speaking up might push Melbourne Airport to put better practices in pace for how elderly and disabled passengers are processed by security.

“All I want to do is talk to them about ideas how things could be better managed… Let the public be part of the the change, because we are the ones suffering.

“People are not thinking ‘Is there a better way?'” she added.

A Melbourne Airport spokesperson told Yahoo7 Mrs Sweetnam was the victim of “a very opportunistic, and incredibly brazen crime.”

“It would take a person of some considerable motivation to even contemplate committing such a crime in view of the myriad security arrangements that are in place at an airport screening point,” they said.

The airport confirmed the AFP attended the scene promptly and identified and engaged with a person of interest, however a lack of evidence prevented charges to be laid.

Melbourne Airport advised travellers who might need extra help going through the security process, or who might be concerned about being separated from their belongings, to talk to staff at the screening point.

“The individual who has committed that crime has undoubtedly ruined Mrs Sweetnam’s experience of travel. We’re completely sensitive to that and we’re keen to ensure Mrs Sweetnam is looked after – and we hope we can restore her confidence to travel in the future,” the spokesperson said.