A man died Monday after traveling on a United Airlines flight from Orlando to Los Angeles, and while his cause of death is unclear, some fear it may have been due to COVID-19 complications.
The man, who has not been identified, was on the plane when he began experiencing what the flight crew believed to be cardiac arrest, United Airlines said in a statement.
Cameron Roberts, a passenger on the flight, told ABC News that the crew attempted to care for the man by giving him mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions as the plane diverted to New Orleans.
“They had him on the ground in the center of the aisle,” Roberts said. “They were still giving him CPR while we were touching down.”
The man was transported to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Tony Aldapa, one of the passengers who performed CPR on the man, told KNBC that he is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Aldapa is an EMT and emergency room health care worker who was supposed to receive the COVID-19 vaccine Friday, but that has been put on hold while Aldapa is in quarantine, KNBC reported.
In the wake of the incident, United Airlines released further details, including the possibility that the man had COVID-19, The Washington Post reported. Airline officials said the man’s wife was overheard telling an emergency medical worker that her husband had been experiencing coronavirus-related symptoms, including loss of taste and smell, a detail that the couple did not disclose before boarding the flight.
The new detail prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to request a list of all passengers on the flight, which continued to Los Angeles from New Orleans.
According to United Airlines, the man and his wife completed a “Ready-to-Fly” checklist prior to traveling in which he indicated that he had not tested positive for the coronavirus and did not have any related symptoms, The New York Times reported.
“It is apparent the passenger wrongly acknowledged this requirement,” the airline said, according to The Associated Press. “Now that the CDC has contacted us directly, we are sharing requested information with the agency so they can work with local health officials to conduct outreach to any customer the CDC believes may be at risk for possible exposure or infection.”
Officials have not confirmed whether the passenger was infected or not, but his family said this week that he was “feeling sick leading up to the day of travel,” according to the Times.
United officials said they did not switch aircrafts after the man was carried off the plane because, at that time, there was no indication that he might have been infected with COVID-19.
“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,” a spokesperson for United said. “A change in aircraft was not warranted … All passengers opted to continue.”
Now the CDC is working with the airline and medical personnel and is “in the process of collecting information and proceeding according to our standard operating procedures to determine if further public health action is appropriate.”
“The health and safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority, which is why we have various policies and procedures in place such as mask mandates and requiring customers to complete a ‘Ready-to-Fly’ checklist before the flight,” United said in a statement. “We implore passengers not travel if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have COVID-related symptoms. If in doubt, the best option is to get tested.”
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