First Alert 4 Investigates: Injuries involving airport doors prompt safety concerns

In the span of a week and a half, three people were injured by automatic sliding doors that closed on them at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 10:26 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV) -- In the span of a week and a half, three people were injured by automatic sliding doors that closed on them at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

First Alert 4 Investigates uncovered the three cases after 92-year-old Lois Beauchamp reached out to the I-team. She was hit by a door and hospitalized.

“I saw the door coming, so I put my hand up to stop it, which, of course, was totally worthless, so it hit me and knocked me down and banged up my arm,” Beauchamp recalled. “Why did it happen?”

Beauchamp was traveling with her daughter Laurie Kerns. Both say they were struck by comments made to them.

“While we were at the airport, more than one person mentioned this was not the first time the doors had closed on someone,” Kerns said.

First Alert 4 Investigates obtained records from the airport showing Beauchamp was not the first person hit. On July 18, 2023, airport police responded to terminal 2 after a door on the upper level closed on 86-year-old Shirley Southard.

“I was slammed to the ground,” Southard said. “All at once, just knocked me flat.”

Airport surveillance video shows Southard approach the sliding glass doors, and as she steps into the threshold, the doors close on her, causing her to fall to the concrete.

“They said I had a goose bump, a goose egg on the back of my head, and at that point, I hadn’t moved around a lot, but my hip was starting to hurt,” Southard said. “I did see a doctor to make sure I was okay, he said a bruised bone, and it would take at least six weeks to heal.”

A week after Southard was hit, the same door hit Beauchamp.

“It was farthest from my mind that walking through the doors into the terminal was a danger,” said Kerns, Beauchamp’s daughter. “This wasn’t an accident; this was a preventable incident.”

In the span of a week and a half, three people were injured by automatic sliding doors that closed on them at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

On July 25, Kerns was traveling with her mother to Texas. They never made their flight. Kerns said she checked their bags curbside while her mom walked into the terminal. Surveillance video shows a door hit Beauchamp before she falls to the ground.

“It’s pretty well wrapped. I was bleeding rather heavily,” Beauchamp said, holding up her arm.

Beauchamp’s fall sent EMTs rushing over. They didn’t clear her to fly.

“They said she’s not going anywhere except the hospital,” Kerns recalled. “She had a fractured pelvis on her left side. She spent three nights in the hospital; the first couple, she was in a lot of pain.”

On July 28, a few days after Beauchamp was hit, a door closed on Marilyn Woods as she left baggage claim with her granddaughter.

“I was like, did that door just hit me?” Woods said.

Surveillance video from the airport shows after the moment of impact, the door goes off its tracks.

“That doesn’t give you a pass that you can hit three people because you’ve had so many people go through the door, and they didn’t get hit,” Woods said.

It leaves the question, how do automatic doors meant to sense people walking through end up hitting them?

When asked if the airport was aware the three women were hit, St. Louis Lambert International Airport Public Information Officer Roger Lotz answered, “We, through our research for your station, have become aware.”

According to Lotz, the three women are the only cases of people being hit that the airport knows of.

“From my understanding, the doors were functioning properly,” Lotz said.

First Alert 4 Investigates asked Lotz how a door that’s functioning properly hit someone.

“Again, I cannot tell you at this point, and I would like to feel like with the amount of passengers going through these doors, it’s one of these anomalies,” Lotz answered.

Lotz claims when First Alert 4 started asking questions, the airport made changes.

“We looked at the door sensors, and we readjusted it,” said Lotz.

He took First Alert 4 Investigates door by door at terminal 2 to show how they’re staying open when they need to.

“We’ve now adjusted it where the flow of anyone coming through the doors can be more of a diagonal track versus, from my understanding, it once was more of a straightforward,” Lotz explained.

There are national standards for automatic doors that require a safety zone of several feet around the walkway, so when someone steps into that area, the door is supposed to open. If a sensor isn’t working, engineers say that can lead to blind spots, typically popping up on the sides of the door.

“An automatic door that’s working right shouldn’t be closing on people,” said Dr. Richard Hooper, a Texas-based engineer who studies automatic doors.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that last year, automatic doors injured more than 1,354 people nationwide, an average of nearly four a week.

“I would like to see the doors be safer just by design, but until then, they need to be checked every single day by the property owner,” Hooper said. “The safety checks are pretty brief. Generally, you just walk through the door at various angles, make sure the door opens, it only takes a few minutes.”

At the airport, First Alert 4 Investigates found stickers on multiple doors calling for daily safety checks, even noting if there’s a problem, “discontinue” use “immediately.”

During the interview, Lotz said he’d look into how often the doors are checked but said there are annual checks.

“They’re inspected annually. It is one of those anomalies that occurred,” said Lotz.

The airport points to statistics, saying in the first six months of this year, 4,261,148 passengers traveled through Lambert, and three were hit by doors.

“One time is still too many,” Lotz said. “We regret that it even occurred, but we stand by the idea that we have a pretty good track record of getting people through those doors.”

Checking airport surveillance video, First Alert 4 Investigates found the doors continued to be used in the minutes after people were injured and were seen at times not opening despite people trying to walk through.

Surveillance video shows Southard being helped into a wheelchair. She’s surrounded by people when the door strikes again, hitting an employee and Southard’s wheelchair.

While Southard was able to make her flight, Beauchamp spent a few days in the hospital before being transferred to a rehabilitative care center, where she stayed for two months.

In an airport where millions pass through every year, Beauchamp wants to know why it happened to be her.

“That’s the question that can’t be answered, so I’m just trying to live with it,” she said.

After the interview with First Alert 4 Investigates, Lotz provided additional information. He said the airport doors are not checked daily.

According to Lotz, the doors are original to the airport and were installed when Terminal 2 was built in 1998. Lotz pointed to the airport’s plan to expand Terminal 2, which has been in the works for years. He said as part of the project, doors will be replaced either with new hardware or changed into revolving doors.

The doors are made by STANLEY Access Technologies, which provided the following statement:

“Safety is a top priority for STANLEY Access Technologies, and we take any potential product issue seriously.

Automatic door systems require daily inspections and preventative service visits to help ensure they function properly and safely, as well as meet compliance standards. We can confirm installation of our automatic door systems at the St. Louis Lambert International Airport in the past; while we offer service contracts, we are not contracted for and do not service the door systems for the airport. As a result, we do not have additional information to provide on their current condition as it relates to safety and performance.

Should we be contacted by the airport, law enforcement or other authorities, we will work with them to learn more about the situation and help in any way we can.”