Conflicting stories of a man’s death aboard EgyptAir

On Sunday morning, an elderly man aboard a direct MS986 EgyptAir flight from New York to Cairo died, allegedly due to heart failure.

Upon arrival, Louis Abdel-Malek, 81, was safely put into an ambulance. But witnesses aboard the plane claim that the flight crew was ill-equipped to handle the situation — they didn't know CPR or how to operate the defibrillator, and allegedly relied on passengers to take control, witnesses said.

“At meal time [about two hours from landing], he was non-responsive, and the crew was then reluctant to touch him and began panicking over the loud speaker, asking if anyone on board knew CPR,” said a passenger on the plane. “They were completely clueless on how to handle it, and it was frightening.”

The witness was sitting a couple of rows away from the deceased. They were both in business class.

“They then start to pump his chest really hard while he was still sitting in his seat until somebody stopped them, explaining that he needs to be lying down on a hard surface,” she said. “If he wasn’t dead, something like that could kill him; it’s uncertain why he was unconscious.”

Three passengers, including the witness’ husband, then attempted to take control, aiding a male steward to take the man’s pulse and lay him down on the ground, but neither the passengers nor the steward knew the formal procedures in such a medical emergency.

After about an hour of ad-hoc CPR, crew then allegedly began pleading with a pediatrician to sign the man’s death certificate. She refused, considering herself unqualified, as well as because the man had both an American and an Egyptian passport.

“Their response was that we are going to arrive in Egypt, where nobody really checks these things properly,” she said.

Following crew discussions as to whether or not to make a stop in Athens, passengers protested, explaining that he should be taken to Cairo, the man’s home.

The crew then reportedly sat the man back on his chair for the rest of the flight and proceeded to serve breakfast. “Obviously nobody wanted to eat at that point, and they were justifying the death by saying that he was already quite old,” she added.

Witnesses said they would file an official complaint, but that they did not believe it would go anywhere.

EgyptAir media spokesperson Mohamed Rahma refuted the witness claims, deeming them an exaggeration of the events.

“It is impossible that the crew did not know CPR as they have to pass annual exams to even get aboard the plane or have a crew license,” said Rahma, who added that the defibrillator and oxygen masks are simple to use and also have basic instructions included with them.

He also explained that asking for a doctor to sign death certificates is standard procedure because stewards are not qualified to decide whether or not the man had died.

“This was an unfortunate situation where the man was discovered already dead, and there was nothing that could be done,” he said. “It’s natural that both passengers and crewmembers were panicked and unsettled by the situation, but the allegations that the crew didn’t know how to handle such an emergency are impossible.”

Rahma adds that stops in nearby cities are also routine, and that last week a flight with a critically ill passenger flying from Omra, Saudi Arabia to Cairo, Egypt, stopped in Sharm el-Sheikh, where the passanger was successfully treated.

“It’s a decision made by the captain, and considering Egypt was his home, he wisely decided that stopping in Athens would have complicated things more,” Rahma said.

When asked why the man was left in his seat, and not taken out of sight, Rahma responded that the "death bag" procedure, which would have involved covering the man and placing him in the back of the plane, would have traumatized all the passengers on the plane, not just those in business class. The man was covered by a blanket instead.

“Breakfast was also served because we have had similar situations before where passengers later made complaints that they didn’t get breakfast,” he said.

Rahma concluded that he has thus far only received a basic report of the event, and will request a comprehensive report on events.

However, the witness said she was unconvinced and dissatisfied with EgyptAir’s response.

“The media spokesperson was not on the flight,” she said. “If the crew had the situation under control, why were passengers involved in resuscitating the man and making decisions?”  adding that it raises serious concerns about what would happen if it was a young person having a heart attack, who could have been saved.

Witnesses concluded that EgyptAir’s response was the reason they considered it useless to complain in the first place, adding that they have signed up to take a CPR class in Cairo to avoid such a situation in the future.

Louis Abdel-Malek’s family was unavailable to comment.

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