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A Man With COVID-19 Symptoms Died In The Middle Of A United Airlines Flight

The man filled out a preflight checklist stating he was not diagnosed with COVID-19 and had no symptoms. Airline officials later found out he had been feeling sick for days.

Posted on December 19, 2020, at 4:20 p.m. ET

A United Airlines plane takes off
Nurphoto / Getty Images

United Airlines is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track down passengers on a Dec. 14 flight from Orlando to Los Angeles after a man showing symptoms of the coronavirus died on the plane, airline officials said.

The family of the man confirmed to the airline that he had preexisting conditions, including high blood pressure and upper respiratory issues, and he was feeling sick in the days leading up to his flight to LA, a United spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

However, the man had filled out a preflight checklist that stated he was not diagnosed with COVID-19 and did not have any related symptoms, thus allowing him to board. The spokesperson said they later determined he "wrongly acknowledged this requirement."

The plane was diverted to New Orleans, and paramedics transported the man to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, United said in a statement.

The man's wife was overheard telling an EMT that he had COVID-related symptoms, including the loss of taste and smell, the spokesperson said, but a COVID diagnosis was not confirmed at the time.

"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," United said.

The CDC said it is "collecting information" about the incident "to determine if further public health action is appropriate." The agency did not release any details about the man to protect his privacy.

At least two people tweeted about what appears to be the same incident, claiming to have been on the flight.

The man behind me on this flight. DIED. OF COVID. MIDFLIGHT. I have so many questions.

One of them, Shay Allen, said she had noticed that the man was having trouble breathing when she boarded.

The airline did not check passengers' temperatures before boarding, she said, and medical personnel on the flight tried to revive the man before the plane touched down in New Orleans.

Allen said United did not change planes despite the potential exposure to the virus.

"At the time of the diversion, we were informed he had suffered a cardiac arrest, so passengers were given the option to take a later flight or continue on with their travel plans," United said.

Before I sat in my seat, walking through the isle you could see that he was having a hard time breathing. I made eye contact with his wife and looked at him and she just looked down. I believe he passed around the time we took off (just guessing because thats makes most sense)

The four flight attendants on the plane are quarantined in Los Angeles for 14 days according to guidelines, Taylor Garland, a spokesperson for Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told BuzzFeed News.

"Our union continues to provide support to the crew," Garland said.

California, which is currently experiencing an alarming surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations, recommends a 14-day quarantine period for travelers from out of state.

Los Angeles requires travelers to fill out a form online acknowledging the recommendation. It's unclear if or how the city would enforce such a quarantine.

It is not the first time a COVID-related death has occurred on a plane. In July, a woman in her thirties died of COVID-19 during a flight from Texas to New Mexico.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.