United flight from Orlando to LA diverted due to medical emergency possibly linked to COVID-19

ByCarlos Granda KABC logo
Sunday, December 20, 2020
Man with COVID-like symptoms dies on flight to LAX
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Questions surrounded a medical emergency on a United Airlines flight to Los Angeles International Airport after a man died following a heart attack.

LOS ANGELES -- Several questions arose Friday surrounding a medical emergency on a United Airlines flight to Los Angeles International Airport after a man died following a heart attack -- including whether COVID-19 may have played a role.

United Flight 591 from Orlando, Florida, landed at LAX on Monday -- hours after the plane made an emergency landing in New Orleans.

The airline said in a written statement, at the time of the incident, it was determined the passenger "suffered a cardiac arrest, so passengers were given the option to take a later flight or continue on with their travel plans."

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Mayor Eric Garcetti said hospital officials are telling him and his staff that if Los Angeles continues on its upward trend of COVID-19 hospitalizations through Christmas, the medical facilities will "go under."

United says all passengers decided to stay on the plane.

There are reports the man's family told medical workers he had coronavirus-related symptoms, including loss of taste and smell.

One person who says she was on the flight tweeted at United.

She claimed the airline staff "cleaned up his blood and germs with wet wipes."

Passenger Megan Hubbard said the man was shaking and having a hard time breathing.

Hubbard said she and Cameron Roberts were just three rows away and heard the wife talking to EMTs.

"She immediately said he had tested positive like a week ago for COVID and that he was having symptoms, having trouble breathing," Hubbard said.

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United says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has contacted the airline.

"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 said in a statement. "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 acknowledging they have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 14 days and do not have COVID-related symptoms."

Hubbard and Roberts said they were not given the option to leave the plane.

"It was more like, if everybody's comfortable, we're going to head on and continue once we get everything refilled," Roberts said.

Hubbard and Roberts said they have been tested and are in quarantine, but no one from either United or the CDC has contacted them so far.

An infectious disease expert explained the risks with flying during the pandemic.

"We are also asking passengers to get themselves tested before they go on the flight, but a negative test two days ago doesn't mean that they are not spreading the virus today because they were incubating when the test was taken," Dr. Suman M. Radhakrishna with Dignity Health California Hospital told Eyewitness News on Friday.