American Airlines defended its staff as professional and its equipment as sound yesterday after a swift review of a passenger’s in-flight death, despite her family’s claims that the crew ignored her pleas until it was too late.
Carine Desir, 44, was pronounced dead Friday on a nearly full Haiti-to-New York flight by a pediatrician who said he tried to use the plane’s defibrillator on her as she faded, but her pulse was already too weak for it to work.
The doctor, Joel Shulkin, was one of several medical professionals who stepped in after flight attendants asked if any were on board. Shulkin said through his attorney, Justin Nadeau, that two emergency medical technicians performed CPR on Desir, a diabetic.
Sitting in the 10th row, four rows back from first class, Desir had complained of not feeling well and being very thirsty after she ate a meal on the flight home from Port-au-Prince to Kennedy Airport, according to Antonio Oliver, a cousin who was traveling with her and her brother. A flight attendant brought water to her, he said.
A few minutes later, Desir, herself a nurse, said she was having trouble breathing and asked for oxygen, Oliver said. “Don’t let me die,” he recalled her saying.
But a flight attendant twice refused her request, Oliver said.
Airline spokesman Charley Wilson said Desir’s cousin flagged down a flight attendant and said Desir had diabetes and needed oxygen.
“The flight attendant responded, ‘OK, but we usually don’t need to treat diabetes with oxygen, but let me check anyway and get back to you,'” Wilson said.
The employee spoke with another flight attendant, and both went to Desir within 3 minutes, according to Wilson.
“By that time the situation was worsening, and they immediately began administering oxygen,” he said.
Flight attendants are trained not to automatically give oxygen to every passenger who requests it but instead use airline criteria to judge when it’s needed, said Leslie Mayo, a spokeswoman for the union representing American’s attendants.
There were 12 oxygen tanks on the plane, and the crew checked them before the flight took off to make sure they were working, Wilson said. He said at least two were used on Desir.“Each tank worked properly. I cannot speculate as to why a second tank was used,” he said.