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CDC Investigating Possible COVID Exposure On LAX-Bound Flight After Passenger Dies

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Federal health officials are working with United Airlines to determine whether passengers aboard a Los Angeles-bound flight might have been exposed to COVID-19.

United Airlines confirmed Friday that it had been contacted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about Flight 591, which was headed to Los Angeles International Airport from Orlando, Florida, on Monday.

According to the airline, the flight was diverted and landed in New Orleans due to a sick passenger who was taken off the plane and was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

"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," the airline said. "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."

Megan Hubbard and her fiancé, Cameron Roberts, were on the flight. They said the scene was chaotic as flight attendants and healthcare workers onboard rushed to help the man. But they said they got even more worried when they said the man's wife made comments about his health.

"She had stated to everyone that was around us, we all heard, that he tested for COVID last week and that he had symptoms like he had trouble breathing, loss of taste and loss of smell," Hubbard said. "He was like having a hard time breathing. He didn't look well at all."

Hubbard and Roberts said passengers were not given the option of taking a later flight, contrary to the airline's statement. They also said they have not yet been contacted by the CDC.

United Airlines officials said passengers must certify before they are allowed to board planes that they do not have COVID-19 or any symptoms, but they are not required to show proof.

"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," United said in a statement.

After the man was taken off the plane in New Orleans, the flight continued to LAX, under the initial assessment that the passenger had suffered a heart attack, the airline said.

The four flight attendants who were working the flight went into quarantine after the plane arrived in Los Angeles, according to their union, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

"United flight attendants on Monday responded to a medical emergency inflight resulting in a diversion," union representative Taylor Garland said. "Upon arrival at LAX, the crew of four flight attendants were quarantined for 14 days per written guidelines. Our union continues to provide support to the crew. We urge passengers to comply with airline COVID policies and stay home if you're sick."

The man's official cause of death has not yet been released by the New Orleans coroner's office.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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