An EMT who answered the call to help a man thought to be suffering a heart attack on a United Airlines flight last week now fears that he could have contracted COVID-19 after it was revealed that the victim may have tested positive for the virus prior to traveling.
Tony Aldapa, an EMT on the December 14 flight that made an emergency medical diversion to New Orleans en route to LAX, spent an hour giving CPR to a fellow passenger thought to be in the throes of a cardiac event. Passengers subsequently reported that the victim’s wife was overheard telling flight staff that her husband had tested positive for COVID-19 the previous week.
As ABC 7 reports, two days later Aldapa had reason for concern. “When I woke up again on Wednesday, my whole body was still hurting,” he said. “I had a headache, a little bit of a cough, and then it kinda—every day since then my cough will be a little bit worse, or my headache will be a little bit worse, I feel like I got hit by a train. Not well.”
Though Aldapa tested negative for COVID, he’s awaiting the results of a second test.
Meanwhile, other people who were on the flight are wondering why the man—who died on board—was allowed to fly in the first place.
Passenger Megan Hubbard, who was seated three rows behind the ailing man, is one of the passengers who says she heard the wife say her husband tested positive a week earlier and that he’d been shown signs of the illness ever since.
“She immediately said he had tested positive like a week ago for COVID and that he was having symptoms, having trouble breathing,” Hubbard said, also claiming that airline staff “cleaned up his blood and germs with wet wipes.”
In a tweet to United Airlines the next day, Hubbard wrote, “Can I ask how you guys let a covid positive man on my flight last night? He was shaking and sweating boarding the plane. He was clearly sick and then died mid flight.”
Hubbard also noted that, after the victim died, passengers and crew continued to Los Angeles in the same plane.
That same day, United was quick to allay Hubbard’s fears, tweeting her back, “We can assure you that the medical emergency on your flight was not Covid related.”
Hello, Megan. We're sorry that you experienced this during your travel. We can assure you that the medical emergency on your flight was not Covid related. The safety of our customers is our highest priority and the area was properly disinfected. ^DD
— United Airlines (@united) December 15, 2020
The airline also said in a written statement at the time that the man “suffered a cardiac arrest, so passengers were given the option to take a later flight or continue on with their travel plans,” and that all passengers opted to remain onboard.
Hubbard says she wasn’t given a choice: “It was more like, if everybody’s comfortable, we’re going to head on and continue once we get everything refilled.”
United has since walked back its optimistic statement. On December 19 the airline admitted, “At the time of the diversion, we were informed he had suffered a cardiac arrest… Now that the CDC has contacted us directly, 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.”
Despite Hubbard’s claim that the victim’s wife told airline employees that he was COVID-positive, and that EMTs and nurses helping the man warned everyone to “get tested,” United says the victim misled them to get on the plane.
According to United, the passenger stated on a required pre-boarding checklist that he had not tested positive for COVID and that he had no symptoms. The airline contends that the deceased passenger must have “wrongly acknowledged this requirement.”