The dramatic scene unfolded on Monday (local time) last week on a flight between Orlando and Los Angeles, with air crew and at least one passenger trying in vain to save the man’s life as the plane was diverted to New Orleans.
The country’s health authorities at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are working with carrier United Airlines to contact all those on board the plane who may have been exposed to coronavirus, the airline said in a statement after initially claiming the man died from cardiac arrest.
According to the airline, prior to boarding the passenger filled out a document stating he had not tested positive for Covid-19 and did not have any symptoms related to the novel coronavirus.
“It is apparent the passenger wrongly acknowledged this requirement,” United said.
The airline said the man’s wife was overheard telling an emergency medical technician that he had shown symptoms of the disease, including loss of taste and smell.
Passenger Tony Aldapa told CBS Los Angeles that he was on the flight and used his EMT training to try save the man.
“There were three of us that were essentially tag-teaming doing chest compressions, probably about 45 minutes,” he said.
Mr Aldapa said the man’s wife told him her husband was displaying coronavirus symptoms and was planning on getting tested.
“She told me he had symptoms, he was short of breath and she just wanted to get him home and they plan on getting tested this week,” he said.
Like others on board, he shared the story in detail on social media after it made headlines across the country.
“I made the decision to attempt to save the passengers life and along with 2 others performed CPR for close to an hour until we landed,” he tweeted Sunday.
“I knew the risks involved in performing CPR on someone that potentially has COVID but I made the choice to do so anyways. I spoke with the passengers wife about his medical history and she never mentioned he was positive, she said he was scheduled to have a test done in LA.
“I spent the remainder of the flight covered in my own sweat and in that man's urine. I have since become symptomatic myself and am awaiting the results of my second test,” he said.
‘Blood and germs’: Passengers recount ‘traumatic’ experience
A number of people claiming to be on board the flight have also taken to Twitter to recount their experience and criticise the airline for its handling of the situation.
One woman asked the airline why they didn’t have their temperature checked before boarding and described the man’s bones cracking during the attempts to resuscitate him.
“You could literally hear his bones cracking during chest compressions,” she wrote. The woman has since blocked people from viewing her tweets.
Another woman, identified as Megan Hubbard, was on board the plane with her fiancee Cameron Roberts and spoke to CBS Los Angeles about the ordeal. She lambasted the airline, claiming others on board were aware the man had severe Covid symptoms.
there for hours waiting while you guys cleaned up his blood and germs with wet wipes. Is this how you guys handle other people's safety and health?
— megan💎 (@callmemagen) December 15, 2020
@united statement that was made yesterday is laughable to those of us actually on flight UA591. There was never any mention of we are diverting this flight because of cardiac arrest reasons. Everyone was aware this was COVID related because the wife was relaying his medical
— megan💎 (@callmemagen) December 18, 2020
The man behind me on this flight. DIED. OF COVID. MIDFLIGHT.
I have so many questions.
— Jo LaFlame (@jobreauxx) December 15, 2020
All four flight attendants were quarantined for two weeks once they arrived at Los Angeles, “per written guidelines,” Taylor Garland, spokesperson for Association of Flight Attendants in the US, said.
“Our union continues to provide support to the crew,” she said. “We urge passengers to comply with airline COVID policies and stay home if you’re sick.”
United said it was originally told the man died from heart trouble, so passengers were allowed to stay on the plane and complete the flight to Los Angeles or take a later flight. The airline said all passengers stayed on the plane.
Megan Hubbard and Cameron Roberts refuted the airline’s claim, telling CBS passengers were not given an option and were simply told the plane was continuing on to its destination.
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