SALT LAKE CITY — Lost luggage. It's just one of the hassles of flying. But a South African man, flying to Utah for his wife's memorial service, lost a bag with something irreplaceable inside.

Alfred Wilford was traveling with his late wife's cremains. Even though he had the proper paperwork, he was terrified he wouldn't be able to get through security and customs, so he carefully packed the ashes in a suitcase — a bag that didn't arrive with the plane.

Veronica Wilford died in 2008 of ovarian cancer. Every photo of her brings back happy memories for her family.

"If she could do you a favor, she would; and she never expected anything in return," Wilford said.

The Wilfords lived in South Africa, but it was Veronica Wilford's wish that her ashes end up in Utah, closer to her children and grandchildren. Alfred Wilford flew first to the East Coast, then boarded Delta Flight 1189 to Salt Lake City on Wednesday. His wife's cremains were packed inside a suitcase.

The plane made it. The bag didn't.

Wilford's stepsons made repeated calls to the airline, but the family said it was like no one seemed to care.

"I don't know how early on they knew they had no idea where it was," said Karl Doller, Veronica Wilford's son.

"It's hard to see the pain in my husband, who's dealing with this directly," Karl Doller's wife, Rebecca, said. "His emotions rise due to the lack of sympathy, the lack of cooperation."

Thirty-six hours after Wilford's arrival, and running out of time before the memorial service, the family called KSL News.

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During the interview with the family, an e-mail from Delta was received. It reads, in part: "We have located Mr. (Wilford's) bag, and it's being delivered to him in Salt Lake City now."

And just a short time after that, the bag was delivered. Wilford wasted no time opening the suitcase and digging through to find the urn.

It was there, in perfect condition, still cushioned carefully between sweaters and shirts.

"This is important," Wilford said, tearing up.

The bag was located in San Diego. The family was told another passenger's bar code somehow ended up on Wilford's luggage.

e-mail: sdallof@ksl.com