Passengers sick on plane

Erin Sykes

'Plane From Hell:' Mysterious Illness Aboard Emirates Flight Prompts CDC Response At JFK Airport

September 05, 2018 - 4:15 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- An Emirates plane was quarantined at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday morning as medical officials spent hours evaluating passengers and crew after several people on board reported feeling sick.

Flight 203 from Dubai landed safely at the airport around 9:10 a.m. after declaring a medical emergency, prompting a huge response from police and paramedics.

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Acting New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said there were 521 passengers on the plane, and 106 of them had symptoms ranging from coughing and fever to vomiting.

The Centers for Disease Control assessed all passengers, and most were cleared to continue their travels. The CDC members took the passengers' temperatures on the tarmac and also asked them questions about their symptoms and history, Barbot said.

A total of 10 people were found to be ill – seven crewmembers and three passengers, Barbot said. They were taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. Nine people refused medical attention, officials said earlier.

Barbot influenza is believed to be to blame.

“It looks like this is probably influenza, but again, until we have our final results late tonight, we won’t be able to give a final determination of what the underlying cause is of this illness,” she said.

Rapper Vanilla Ice, who was one of the passengers on the flight, tweeted video after landing at Kennedy Airport showing ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles on the tarmac.

"So I just landed in New York coming back from Dubai and now I’m stuck on the runway with like 1000 police, ambulances, fire trucks, this is crazy," the 50-year-old whose real name is Robert Van Winkle tweeted.

The mayor's press secretary, Eric Phillips, tweeted that the plane was quarantined and Mayor Bill de Blasio was briefed on the situation.

Passenger Erin Sykes, from Manhattan, said before boarding the plane she noticed dozens of people were "violently sick" with a "deep intense cough."

"It was just so obvious, it was really bad when we were lining up to get onto the plane and people were so intensely sick and nobody was checking or asking any questions or even coming around with extra water or hand towels or masks. Nothing was done," Sykes told WCBS Newsradio 880's Sophia Hall. "If you don't let a drunk person board a plane why would you let somebody that's violently ill board a plane?"

Passenger Zeph Shamba, from Zimbabwe, called it a "plane from hell." He said while they were in the air he heard people coughing and throwing up.

"We're not told what it was, but we were just told by the pilot that we've got a couple of passengers who are not feeling well so when we get down on the ground we're going to be somewhat quarantined," Shamba said. "People were worried cause you don't know what it is, so you're getting down there and guys have got their masks on their noses and stuff like that."

Emirates said those who were hospitalized included seven crew members and three passengers. According to the hospital, the patients experienced several symptoms including cough, headache, sore throat and fever. 

All other passengers were allowed to deplane and clear customs.

The plane was cleared around 12:30 p.m.

Phillips said it's possible that some of the passengers had come from Mecca, where this is a flu outbreak.

A government source briefed on the situation tells CBS News there was no evidence of a security or terror issue.

The NYPD is monitoring the situation.

Emirates said the return flight from New York to Dubai was delayed by three hours because of the medical issue.

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