Chaotic scene on plane after man, exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms mid-flight, dies

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Chaos reigned in the skies last week on a United Airlines flight when a man suffered a medical emergency during a flight from Orlando, Fla., to Los Angeles.

Despite efforts by other passengers and crew members, and later by paramedics to resuscitate the passenger, he died of what is being reported as a possible heart attack due to COVID-19 complications — there are conflicting reports that the passenger had tested positive for the virus.


The flight was diverted to New Orleans, where an emergency landing took place, and the man was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The passenger was seen shaking and sweating, and having a difficult time breathing before the flight departed Orlando, according to the Daily Mail, which noted that the man’s wife was heard saying her husband had been showing symptoms of COVID-19 for the past week, having lost his sense of taste and smell.

The symptoms were reportedly not disclosed to United, which requires passengers to fill out a checklist saying they have not tested positive for coronavirus and don’t have symptoms — the airline said the man “wrongly acknowledged this requirement.”

Shay Allen, a passenger on the flight, told NBC Los Angeles she saw the man board with his head down and breathing heavily.

“Everything felt so intense and not real,” Allen said, telling the affiliate less than 20 minutes into the flight a nurse and an EM tech began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him.

Because the medical emergency was initially ruled to be a cardiac arrest, the flight continued on to Los Angeles on the same plane — though given the option to deplane and take a later flight, United said no passenger took them up on the offer.

“A change in aircraft was not warranted,” United Airlines said.

“At the time of the diversion, we were informed he had suffered a cardiac arrest, so passengers were given the option to take a later flight or continue on with their travel plans,” the airline said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contacted United after the incident.

“We are sharing requested information with the agency so they can work with local health officials to conduct outreach to any customer the C.D.C. believes may be at risk for possible exposure or infection,” United Airlines said.

The four flight attendants on the flight who responded to the emergency went into quarantine for 14 days after the plane landed in Los Angeles, NBC News reported.

Tony Aldapa, identified by the Daily Mail as one of the passengers on board who helped perform CPR on the man, spoke of his experience.

“I got up out of my seat, let them know ‘Hey I know CPR’ and asked, ‘Do you need some extra help?’ I can tap in and help with chest compressions. That’s how it all started, Aldapa said.

“By the point that I got there to the point where the fire department got on board, it was at least 45 minutes,” he noted.

“‘There was no mouth-to-mouth at all. We were doing chest compressions and they had him on the oxygen mask from the plane, then once we had a medical bag that is kept on board we used an ambu-bag which is a bag that you squeeze to give breaths, that’s what we used for breathing,” he further explained.

Aldapa also shared his experience on Twitter:

As for the confusion over whether the man had tested positive for COVID-19, that appeared to center around confusion about what the wife said.

There was also a claim United Airlines did not take temperature before boarding

Tom Tillison


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