Airline Says Traveler Who Died Was Helped

By Richard Pyle
Associated Press
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

NEW YORK, Feb. 25 -- American Airlines on Monday insisted that it tried to help a passenger who died after complaining she could not breathe. It disputed the account of a relative who said the woman was denied oxygen and that medical devices failed.

The airline said that the oxygen tanks and a defibrillator were working and noted that several medical professionals on the flight, including a physician, tried to save Carine Desir, 44, who had heart disease.

"American Airlines, after investigation, has determined that oxygen was administered on the aircraft, and it was working, and the defibrillator was applied as well," airline spokesman Charley Wilson said Monday.

Desir had complained of not feeling well and being very thirsty on the Friday flight home from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after she ate a meal, according to Antonio Oliver, a cousin who was traveling with her and her brother, Joel Desir. A flight attendant gave her water, he said.

A few minutes later, Desir said she was having "trouble breathing" and asked for oxygen, but a flight attendant twice refused her request, Oliver said.

"Don't let me die," he recalled her saying.

He said other passengers aboard Flight 896 became agitated over the situation, and the flight attendant, apparently after phone consultation with the cockpit, tried to administer oxygen from a portable tank and mask, but the tank was empty.

Oliver said two doctors and two nurses were aboard and tried to administer oxygen from a second tank, which also was empty. Desir was placed on the floor, and a nurse tried CPR, Oliver said. A defibrillator, which he called a "box," also was applied but did not function effectively, he said.

Oliver said he then asked for the plane to "land right away so I can get her to a hospital," and the pilot agreed to divert to Miami, 45 minutes away. But during that time Desir collapsed and died, Oliver said.

"Her last words were, 'I cannot breathe,' " he said.

Wilson, the airline spokesman, said that there were 12 oxygen tanks on the plane and that the crew checked them before the flight took off to make sure they were working. He said at least two were used on Desir.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires commercial flights to carry no fewer than two oxygen dispensers. The main goal of the rule is to have oxygen available in the event of a rapid cabin decompression, but it can also be used for other emergencies. It is up to the airlines to maintain the canisters.

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