The 69-year-old man whose medical emergency forced a United Airlines jet to divert to New Orleans last week had the novel coronavirus, a Louisiana coroner said.
The report by Jefferson Parish coroner Gerry Cvitanovich was the confirmation passengers on Flight 591 have been waiting to hear for a week, after the Los Angeles man’s wife was heard telling medical workers on the plane that he had been experiencing symptoms, including trouble breathing and loss of taste and smell.
The flight was en route from Orlando to Los Angeles on Dec. 14 when an announcement came over the public address system asking for medical professionals. A nurse, an emergency medical worker and another man jumped into action and did chest compressions for about 45 minutes, witnesses said.
After he was taken off the plane, the man, identified in the report as Isaias Hernandez, was pronounced dead at Ochsner Medical Center-Kenner. His causes of death were listed as covid-19 and acute respiratory failure.
In early statements about the incident, United did not mention the coronavirus. The airline said in a statement Friday that based on an initial understanding that the man had suffered a heart attack, the flight continued to Los Angeles after the diversion. Later, officials discovered that the man had been feeling sick before traveling, but he had wrongly said he did not have covid-related symptoms on a preflight checklist.
In Friday’s statement, United said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked for the passenger manifest.
“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,” United spokesman Charles Hobart said in the statement.
Neither United nor the CDC had any comment about the coroner’s report. It was not known if any passengers had been notified by public health officials yet about the man’s status; according to the CDC, the agency sends contact information to state and local health departments for contact tracing and public health follow-ups.
Tony Aldapa, who said he was one of the volunteers on the plane who performed CPR, told Chris Cuomo on CNN on Monday that he and others stepped in to help despite the possibility that the man had the virus.
“My whole mind-set that whole time was that this individual needed CPR … regardless of anything else he could have had,” said Aldapa, who said he has worked as an emergency medical technician and works in an emergency room.
“It’s kind of become second nature,” he said. “You see something, you’ve got to do something.”
Aldapa said he has developed fatigue, a cough and headache, but so far he has tested negative for the coronavirus.
“Fortunately, if the symptoms I have are from covid, I’ve gotten lucky,” he told CNN. “They’ve been very mild.”