Insta-CoGo: Death on a Flight From Haiti
The Internet is abuzz with an accusation that airline personnel initially refused to help a dying woman, then agreed to give her oxygen only to find that two oxygen tanks on board were empty.
Instant news, true or untrue, is both the greatness and the curse of modern communications. In this case, things may not be as purported. What we know for sure is that Carine Desir, 44, died Friday on an American Airlines jet from Haiti to New York. The New York Medical Examiner's office says the woman had heart disease and died of natural causes.
The woman's cousin, Antonio Oliver, told the Associated Press that a flight attendant twice refused to give Desir oxygen. When the crew did agree to help, Oliver says they discovered that two oxygen tanks were empty.
But American spokesman Tim Wagner gave me a different rundown this afternoon:
The passenger first complained of illness about an hour into the flight. "Our best information is that the cousin said she had diabetes and he wanted oxygen. The flight attendant said she wasn't sure oxygen would help, and stepped away to ask another flight attendent. Oxygen was administered within two to three minutes after the intial request."
All the oxygen tanks worked; they were checked pre-flight, says Wagner. A call was put out for medical personnel who might be on board, and seven people on board volunteered, including two doctors and a nurse, says Wagner. They took over the administration of oxygen. At one point one of them noted that she wasn't getting oxygen, and used a handpumped device that forces oxygen into the lungs. CoGo is guessing that the cousin might have assumed this meant that the oxygen tanks weren't working, when in fact it might simply have meant that a handpumped type was better.
Wagner said doctors and the nurse did CPR for 45 minutes, during which time the pilot decided to divert the plane to Miami and headed that way. However, once the woman was declared dead, the pilot decided to continue on to New York.
Here's a few more insights into basic procedures for medical emergencies on board flights:
* All planes carry on board a medical kit that flight crew must be trained to use. Requirements imposed in 2004 call for an upgraded kit, including a heart defibrillator.
* American was way ahead of the curve, voluntarily adding defibrillators on all planes in the late 1990s, according to FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette.
* Defibrillators, contrary to popular notions, are not effective in treating all types of heart attacks. They monitor heart rate and other vital signs and administer a shock only if the problem is a particular kind of irregular heartbeat.
* Although crews are given basic training to use what's included in the mandated kit, they are not medical personnel and are trained to ask if there are medical personnel on board to help. Such help was both requested and received.
* Airlines are required to have two tanks of oxygen on board -- the oxygen masks over each seat are automatically triggered to drop if there is decompression in the cabin, and most can't just willy nilly be pulled down for use. Airlines are also supposed to have two backups if for some reason the other two fail or run out. American says it had 12 tanks on board.
Bottom line: More facts will undoubtedly emerge..
By Cindy Loose |
February 25, 2008; 2:47 PM ET
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