June 2014 Caption: Argentine athlete, Carlos Catuogno, with his custom made Cervélo triathlon bicycle which went missing on a flight from Sao Paulo to Johannesburg.

Cape Town - An Argentine tri-athlete has slammed SAA for ruining his experience of Iron Man South Africa and upsetting his season’s training schedule after a case with more than R100 000 worth of sports equipment (including a custom Cervélo triathlon bicycle) went missing on a flight from Sao Paulo to Joburg.

The airline’s eventual offer to compensate him for a little over a tenth of the estimated value of his gear has infuriated Carlos Catuogno.

Catuogno, 40, is a tri-athlete from San Luis, Argentina, who competes regularly in races around South America. After his first “nightmarish” trip, he’s levelled threats of legal action against the airline and has called on other athletes to boycott SAA.

In e-mail correspondence with the Cape Argus from his home in San Luis, Catuogno spoke of his frustration: “Today I cannot plan any future competition because I don’t have the equipment and it will take me a long time to purchase it again. So clearly they are damaging my current sports performance.”

After hearing positive reviews about the international Ironman triathlon series’ South African leg, which takes place in Port Elizabeth annually, Catuogno decided to train towards the competition, his first outside of South America.

“The time to prepare for an Ironman takes more than a year and the most demanding stage is the cycling part because it is the longest of the competition,” he explained.

“The results are directly influenced by (one’s mental state). I spent the day before the competition completely stressed, sleepless and doing (inquiries about my bicycle)… I have flown to other sports events with my bike and I never had any problem. This was my first time with South African Airlines and the experience was dreadful.”

With the help of a good Samaritan, a South African athlete who lent him a bicycle and running shoes, Catuogno completed the race regardless. But he feels his performance was sub-par. Further, his week-long South African holiday planned for after the event was ruined by constant trips to and from Port Elizabeth airport, police stations and phone calls to authorities.

After weeks of inquiries, while still in South Africa and after returning home, Catuogno got a response from SAA a little over a week ago.

Iain Worley, a customer care executive, told him the Montreal Convention stipulated a “maximum liability” of an air carrier for losses incurred. This limit is set at $1 770 (about R18 000). Follow-up queries by the Cape Argus to SAA went unanswered.

Catuogno has refused to accept the offer of compensation. “I do not understand how it is possible to lose a bike case which weighs 30kg and the fact that nobody knows what happened.” - Cape Argus

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