"What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life"

A passenger returning home to New York from Haiti collapsed and died aboard an American Airlines flight after a flight attendant first told her that he could not give her any oxygen, and then brought her an oxygen tank that was empty, a relative said on Sunday.

American Airlines confirmed the flight death and said medical professionals had tried to save the passenger, Carine Desir, 44, of Brooklyn.

Ms. Desir, who had heart disease, died of natural causes, a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner’s office, Ellen S. Borakove, said on Sunday.

Ms. Desir complained of illness and extreme thirst on the flight from Port-au-Prince on Friday after she had eaten a meal, according to Antonio Oliver, a cousin who was traveling with her and her brother Joel Desir. A flight attendant gave her water, Mr. Oliver said.

A few minutes later, Ms. Desir said she was having trouble breathing and asked for oxygen, but a flight attendant twice refused her request, Mr. Oliver said in a telephone interview.

After the flight attendant refused to administer oxygen to Ms. Desir, she became distressed, pleading, “Don’t let me die,” Mr. Oliver recalled.

He said other passengers aboard Flight 896 became agitated over the situation, and the flight attendant, apparently after phone consultation with the cockpit, tried to administer oxygen from a portable tank and mask, but the tank was empty.

Mr. Oliver said two doctors and two nurses who were aboard tried to administer oxygen from a second tank, which was also empty.

Sonja Whitemon, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, would not comment on Mr. Oliver’s claims of faulty medical equipment aboard the plane.

Ms. Desir was placed on the floor and a nurse tried to resuscitate her, but to no avail, Mr. Oliver said. “I cannot believe what is happening on the plane,” he said, sobbing. “She cannot get up, and nothing on the plane works.”

Mr. Oliver said he then asked for the plane to land right away, and the pilot agreed to land in Miami, 45 minutes away. But before the plane could land, Ms. Desir collapsed and died, he said.

“Her last words were, ‘I cannot breathe,’ ” he said.

Ms. Desir was pronounced dead by one of the doctors, Joel Shulkin, and the flight continued on to John F. Kennedy International Airport. Her body was moved to the floor of the first-class section and covered with a blanket, Mr. Oliver said.

From NYTimes


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