Concern mounting after EMT who helped man with COVID-like symptoms on United flight to LAX falls ill

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Monday, December 21, 2020
EMT who helped man with COVID-like symptoms on LA flight falls ill
An EMT who performed CPR on a passenger with COVID-like symptoms who died on a Los Angeles-bound flight is now concerned that he may have contracted the potentially deadly virus.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- An EMT who performed CPR on a passenger with COVID-like symptoms who died on a Los Angeles-bound flight is now concerned that he may have contracted the potentially deadly virus.

Tony Aldapa was on the diverted United flight on Dec. 14 when the plane headed to Los Angeles International Airport was diverted during a medical emergency. A man suffered what was initially deemed a heart attack.

Several passengers with medical experience stepped in to help resuscitate the man, including Aldapa who reportedly performed CPR for almost an hour.

RELATED: United flight to LAX diverted due to medical emergency possibly linked to COVID-19

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.

"When I woke up again on Wednesday, my whole body was still hurting. I had a headache, a little bit of a cough, and then it kinda -- everyday 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," Aldapa said.

He has since tested negative once and is awaiting results from a second test.

Passengers are questioning why the man was allowed to board the flight.

Robert Reeves, his wife and 11-year-old daughter were all onboard the flight when the man, who was seated just two rows in front of them, experienced trouble breathing.

Passengers are all sharing the same story, saying the man's wife said her husband had tested positive for COVID-19 the week prior and were displaying coronavirus-like symptoms.

"Very concerned right away. I think I held my breath for a couple of minutes, thinking uh oh."

Reeves said he has experienced a range of emotions from concern to anger.

"If he was so close to dying, why did he even get on the plane in the first place?" he said.

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.

RELATED: Holiday travel increasing dramatically despite public health warnings amid COVID surge

Despite public health pleas not to travel for the holidays due to an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases, a growing number of Americans are heading to the airport, including in Los Angeles.

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."

United says all passengers decided to stay on the plane.

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 filled.

RELATED: Holidays could intensify COVID surge, force LA County medical facilities to 'go under'

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."

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

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."

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.