A four-member hazmat crew dressed in gear resembling blue space suits filed on to US Airways Flight 845 Wednesday when an Ebola joke backfired.
It’s not exactly clear what was said as the plane was about to land in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic from Philadelphia. Dominican press reported that a passenger sneezed and said: “I have Ebola. You’re all screwed.” An airline official told Fox News Latino an unidentified passenger yelled: “I’ve been to Africa.”
Another passenger overheard the comment and notified a flight attendant, who then alerted the captain, ABC News reported. The plane was stopped on the tarmac in Punta Cana “due to a possible health issue on board,” the airline said in a statement. Then a flight attendant told passengers to sit down and listen.
“It’s going to look worse than it is,” she said over the PA system. “I’ve done this for 36 years. I think the man that has said this is an idiot, and I’ll say that straight out. If you hear me that’s fine.”
The hazmat crew climbed on board, moving down the aisle in plastic suits with breathing apparatuses hiding their faces. People pulled out cellphones to capture the scene. A child squealed in the background.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” a passenger is heard saying in a video posted on YouTube.
Several minutes later, as a man was escorted from the plane, at least two people let out a “boo.”
“I was just kidding,” the man is heard saying in the video. “I ain’t from Africa.”
The man, who is from North America, was reportedly coughing during the flight. He was taken to the airport’s medical center and examined, but medical personnel said he did not have a fever.
Dominican Republic officials eventually cleared the plane.
“We are following the direction of, and strictly adhering to, all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines in place for airlines in response to the Ebola virus,” the airline’s statement read. “The flight was checked by officials and cleared. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused, but the safety of our customers and employees is our first priority.”
Paola Rainieri, vice president of marketing and communications for Grupo Punta Cana, which owns the airport, told Fox News Latino the passenger had made a “joke of poor taste.”