A plane from Nigeria landed at JFK Airport Thursday with a male passenger aboard who had died during the flight after a fit of vomiting — and CDC officials conducted a “cursory” exam before announcing there was no Ebola and turning the corpse over to Port Authority cops to remove, Rep. Peter King said on Thursday.
The congressman was so alarmed by the incident — and by what he and employees see as troubling Ebola vulnerabilities at JFK — that he fired off a letter to the federal Department of Homeland Security demanding more training and tougher protocols for handling possible cases there.
The unnamed, 63-year-old passenger had boarded an Arik Air plane out of Lagos, Nigeria, on Wednesday night, a federal law enforcement source said.
During the flight, the man had been vomiting in his seat, the source said. Some time before the plane landed, he passed away. Flight crew contacted the CDC, federal customs officials and Port Authority police, who all boarded the plane at around 6 a.m. as about 145 worried passengers remained on board, the source said.
“The door [to the terminal] was left open, which a lot of the first responders found alarming,” said the source.
“My understanding was that the passenger was vomiting in the seat,” King (R-LI) said.
“The CDC went on the plane, examined the dead body and said the person did not have Ebola,” King said.
“It was what I was told a cursory examination. The Port Authority cops and personnel from Customs and Border Protection were there, and they were told there was no danger because the person did not have Ebola,” King said.
“But their concern was, how could you tell so quickly? And what adds to the concern is how wrong the CDC has been over the past few weeks.”
Between 70 and 100 passengers a day arrive at JFK from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three West African countries that are the epicenter of the outbreak, King said.
“These individuals transit the airport with the rest of the traveling population, including using the restrooms,” King wrote to Jeh Johnson, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in a letter Thursday.
“Only after they arrive at the Customs and Border Patrol primary screening location that they are separated and sent to secondary inspection for a medical check and to complete the questionnaire,” he wrote Johnson.
King’s letter demands that Homeland Security immediately beef up protocols for what happens to potentially infected passengers in flight and at the terminal itself, prior to their reaching the screening location.
The letter also demands that training and safety equipment improve for the Port Authority police and Customs and Border Patrol officials who can come into contact with high-risk passengers.
“I believe there should be a suspension of direct flights and connecting flights from these three countries,” King said. “And maybe anyone with a visa from those countries, and who has been living in those countries, should be barred” from entering the US, he added.
No other information was immediately available about the deceased Nigerian passenger.
Nigeria is 1,000 miles east of the three West African countries suffering from an Ebola outbreak, but has had 19 confirmed cases of the deadly virus. The country has had no new cases over the past month; the World Health Organization has said that if there are still no new cases of Ebola by Monday, they will officially declare the country “Ebola-free.”