Passenger Dies Inflight, Body Placed In Aisle For Hours

Oh man. The Daily Mail has the sad story of a passenger who passed away on an Azur Air Boeing 757 flight from Antalya, Turkey, to Moscow, Russia.

azur-air

The 50 year old woman was apparently on her way home from a vacation in Turkey when she suffered a diabetic seizure about 45 minutes into the flight. Unfortunately her medication was in the cargo hold, so there apparently wasn’t much that could be done.

The captain decided to continue the flight to Moscow given that there was nothing they could do… so they laid the body down in the aisle and covered it with a blanket. Per pictures from social media, apparently this is where the body remained for hours:

passenger-died-flight

Of course the tragedy here is that the lady passed away, though I imagine the follow-up situation was challenging. There really is no great way to handle this situation:

  • It’s my understanding that if there are several empty seats and someone dies inflight, they’ll try to clear off an area and place the body over a row of seats; however, it looks like this flight was full
  • The plane could have diverted, but it would have only made things for complicated for everyone: depending on where they diverted to, passengers may not have had visas, and it could have been more complicated and expensive to transport the body back to Russia once it enters another country
  • By continuing, this certainly created an extremely awkward situation for all passengers, as they literally had to sit with a dead body by their feet

The Daily Mail article suggests that some planes are equipped with a “corpse cupboard.” As far as I know this isn’t the case anymore. I know Singapore’s A340-500s, which operated the world’s two longest flights, had such “cupboards,” but those planes have been retired. I don’t think any other planes have anything similar.

What do you think is the correct way for an airline to handle a situation like this — should they continue to the destination, or divert?

(Tip of the hat to Vince)

Comments

  1. I don’t know what else could be done to be honest. It seems the most respectful thing to do was to get her home to Russia and save the family the heartache of transporting the body.

    This is an important reminder never to check lifesaving medication in the cargo hold. That should be the real message here.

  2. If the pax is already dead, they may as well continue to the destination, because of the potential complications you cite. Of course, if the pax is still alive, you divert & get them help, but if they’re beyond help already, I don’t think diverting would’ve made any sense.

  3. @Katie – “This is an important reminder never to check lifesaving medication in the cargo hold. That should be the real message here.”

    Excellent point.

  4. The crew made the right call in a difficult and sad situation I think. This does happen from time-to-time sadly. Condolences to the victims family.

    And yes @Lucky, Singapore Airlines did have a storage compartment on the A345’s that was referred to by many as the “KrisMorgue”

  5. Perhaps they could have moved the poor woman to the forward door area or the rear galley, as that would have been a bit more respectful than having people step over her to move up and down the aisles.

    Meds and medical equipment should always be with the passenger.

    How horrible for this woman’s family, the passengers, and the crew.

  6. I am quite sure this is not the first time a passenger dies during a flight (and unfortunately also not the last). I can’t imagine that after the first few occurrences IATA did not study a standard procedure to follow in such cases. I.E. enforce manufacturers to allow access to a portion of the cargo. Combine some empty seatings to free a full row. I am sure that the aviation industry which is made by millions of brains could come up with a suitable solution not to leave the crew of such an unfortunate flight to handle an unknown precedent.

  7. @Nicola – deaths in flight are a fairly regular occurrence, in the order of 100s worldwide per year.

    Major airlines have standard procedures to follow. Aircraft manufacturers aren’t going to ‘allow access to a portion of the cargo’ just for this reason, and I’m not sure who you think would enforce this. On a full shorthaul aircraft there are not really other options apart from moving the body to the front/rear, which can pose its own difficulties.

  8. Sucks that it was probably preventable had she had her medicine on her instead of in the cargo hold. However I agree they made the right choice to continue on as she’s dead already and it would only complicate matters if they diverted.

  9. Personally, I would have sat next to my spouse/mom/friend with them covered, belted and next to the window for support. Was she alone or did the emergency happen in the aisle? It’s a dead body, not a rotting corpse. My loved one would not be left to be stepped around. If the passenger was alone, then maybe that would be a reasonable solution.

  10. @Jo – I don’t think they are allowed to be left sat in a seat as once rigor mortis sets in they are then ‘stuck’ in that position…

  11. Speaking as a Type 1 Diabetic, if she went into a “Diabetic coma”, that would be because her sugar was too low. An ordinary Coke would have snapped her out of it.

    If her sugar was super high, then she would have needed her meds. Hard to imagine that her sugar could have gone that high that quickly that she would have packed her meds in a checked bag.

    Either way it’s terribly sad, a death that probably could have been prevented.

  12. Taiwanese airlines have corpse bags as dead bodies can have relaxed muscles and feces can come out. The corpse is then placed in a lavatory locked from outside.

  13. Knowing how greedy airlines are these days, I’m surprised there aren’t a bunch of “fees” that would apply in cases like this. LOL.

  14. I was actually under the impression that they carried body bags on flights, and had some procedure to secure the body so that it couldn’t become dangerous in severe turbulence.

    Leaving it in the aisle seems like a safety hazard… definitely couldn’t move it in front of an exit door either. Unfortunate and tragic, but far simpler for everyone to keep going, especially if she was going home. Save her family a lot of extra grief trouble and money as they otherwise have to transport the body, possibly internationally.

    Assuming it was insulin, it’s a shame that no one else in the cabin had any. As much as they have AEDs on every plane, I’d hope that some common things like insulin and epipens would be kept aboard for incidents like this.

  15. @Gary

    For sure. Can only wonder if she was told she couldn’t bring any needles in hand luggage. Very sad.

  16. Some strange comments on here lol. We must definately do not carry “body bags” on our aircraft (major long haul European airline). Neother so we have “corpse cupboards”. Also we would never lock a body in a toilet as you risk not being able to get them out again once rigamortice occurs. They need to be laid down in a business class flat bed style seat or across a row of economy seats. If neither of those was available i guess we would move a business class passenger to a spare jump seat to free up space to store the body on their flat bed. We definately would not store it on the floor in the aisle. We could.lay it on the floor in the galley if all else failed!

  17. Marty … it is many airline’s policy to do just that; leave the passenger in the seat and cover with a blanket. Often the crew will try to disguise the passenger as sleeping in order not to disturb those around him/her. However, in this case, I suspect the passenger had an ordeal prior to death and therefore already on the ground being treated. As terrible as this may have been for those around the now dead body, it was likely the most respectful solution aside from possibly moving the passenger to one of the galleys but that poses the problem that in most short haul aircraft, the emergency exits are located either side of the galley. It is a difficult circumstance that there is likely no correct answer for which will please each culture or medical situation.
    I am surprised adequate medical equipment was not available in the onboard medical kits though.

  18. It never fails to astound me, the number of passengers, who put their medicines etc… into their hold baggage.

  19. They should have one body bag on the flight for sterility purposes and that body should be locked in the lavatory. Laying a dead body in the aisle with blankets covering it doesn’t sound to me like good planning, especially for a statistic of people dying annually, mid air in the hundreds. Furthermore, insulin should be included in the medical kit and people with potential life threatening medical situations should sign a mandatory medical release. My condolences to any surviving family.

  20. From a medical point of view, neither this post nor the Daily Mail article make sense, though at least the article in the Mail mentions there might have been other medical problems.

    If a diabetic suffers a seizure, it’s because of low blood sugar levels, e.g. after taking a regular dose of insulin and then not eating. Insulin lowers the blood sugar, so it wouldn’t have helped here at all. Either she suffered a hypoglycemia and no one thought about (or knew how to) administering sugar in one form or another (in Europe and the US, medical emergency kits on airplanes are required to contain some sort of intravenous sugar solution or other medication for hypoglycemia) or there was some other problem. What certainty did not play a role was her not carrying insulin with her.

  21. Had this happen on a flight from Lima to IAH a while back. A VERY old gentleman in a wheelchair looked so bad getting on the plane I had to look close to see if he was still breathing. An hour into the 6 hr flight he wasn’t anymore. Very sad and hard to imagine why his family (with him) had him flying in such a condition. He was 2 or 3 rows behind me. I rode on the rental car shuttle bus with the guy who had to sit next to the body for 5 hrs, then climb over his stiff corpse to get off the plane. They just covered him with a blanket.
    Ron

  22. Perhaps some bags could have been removed from one or two of the overhead lockers, and the body placed in there for the remainder of the flight? That way people could continue to use the aisles and the body would be out of sight. The only concern would be overhead leakages. Hopefully the body wouldn’t move about during the flight before the relevant people boarded for collection. It’s a really tragic story but on the bright side someone might have got dibs on seconds that day!

  23. A passenger died in business class next to me on AA 714 PHL to VCE this summer. After he was pronounced dead by an MD on board, the crew put an oxygen mask on him and bundled him up in a blanket until we landed. Just kept him in his seat.

  24. Like the article states no easy way to handle – aside from this scenario I could think of two other scenarios which may attract some sneering remarks – (not full flight ) set her body in first class – or place in the aft crew section . But then people will surely say she isn’t cargo … or she is blocking vital emergency exits – on other aircraft – perhaps put her in the bed , or yeh jettison her over the Caspian Sea … god rest her soul – always have drs note for medicines or at least carry them on you – and not in stowage

  25. As an emergency physician, adding to Gary’s comment, IF her problem was “diabetic coma,” this is from too much or too little sugar in the blood. The treatment is insulin and IV fluids or sugar by mouth or IV, respectively. These are relatively simple medications. Why aren’t they carried on a flight this long? I would bet that she died of something else like an MI, more prevalent in diabetics.

  26. As someone else has pointed out, while placing a dead body sitting upright wrapped in a blanket and an oxygen mask on seems to make sense, when rigor mortis sets in…good luck getting the body off the plane once it lands. Lying someone flat would be best (in a business class seat or row of economy seats as already mentioned). The floor is the next best place if those two options aren’t available. Can’t comment on the specifics here but the rear galley would have made more sense, but don’t know the logistical circumstances the crew faced. Larger planes have more options. I know that QF for example, can place a body in the bar/lounge area in an A380.

  27. Whatever was the reason I was touched with the incident.She’s died without medication and the dead was lying in a sorry state is unfortunate.I wish the airliners can manage a space to place a dead body with a more dignified way and with sufficient life saving medicines a well trained hostess to extend first aid help to save lives.Today she passed away,tomorrow you or me can also have same fate…!

  28. I was on a Thai Airways flight from Brisbane to Bangkok at the beginning of August when I became aware that people were doing CPR on a passenger about ten rows in front. After a while, they stopped, and put the body in a seat, next to his wife, and covered him with a blanket. We were flying over Brunei, but no efforts was made to land, and we just kept going for another three hours or so to Bangkok. I was amazed at this, and also that there was no defibrillator on the plane. I had assumed standard procedure for a medical emergency would be to land the place. It was pretty shocking and made me wonder if I was flying the right airline.

  29. Propping them up in a seat and strapping them in and covering with blanket- a window seat. As to not block egress in an emergency. On the floor is a safety hazard. Nor is it respectful.

    44 Year flight attendant (3 airlines)

  30. The reality is Flight Attendants are NOT medical personnel nor have the ability to diagnose a pax. The way I am reading this, and please know I could be wrong, but it looks like they said after autopsy and ruled her death by Diabetic seizure with in approx. 45 minutes of flight. It is extremely possible that she showed NO signs of distress therefore no one had time to react or even ask for medical personnel on board (this is the protocol for sick or distressed passengers. Flight Attendants are trained to leave the body where it had expired and most likely the body was on the floor when the crew figured out what was going on they are required to check for pulse of signs of life and some will put pax flat on ground especially if they used AED to check for heart beat/pulse and will administer shock. I know it is appalling to those around, but this is a very emotionally challenging situation for the crew and they have very FEW options to work with. Think about an accident on the roads, when someone expires, they just cover them with a sheet, it’s the same on an aircraft. What you also do not know is the flight crew has all been informed and called ATC and Operations to get direction for the situation, the crew doesn’t always make the decision to continue to the final destination. In this case, it was the right decision to make, the family was able to retrieve the body from Emergency personnel in the city of origin. If there were signs of life even in the smallest of measurement it would have been a medical emergency.

  31. I think the respectful thing to do here is to NOT take a picture and definitely NOT post it on social media for the woman’s friends and family to see for the rest of their lives. Posting it online does nothing for you but pretty horrific for the family.

  32. @Katie- That is exactly the moral of the story.

    Otherwise, what else could be done? Might as well get all the way to the destination instead of deal with a 3rd country, and then have many more issues.

  33. @Judy – priceless.

    @Harry – would be the only body (dead OR alive) that the shite Qantas A380 ‘lounge’ has probably ever had in it!

    @CR – SQ’s A340 “KrisMorgue”; again, priceless.

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