Failure to quickly find defibrillator for man who died on WestJet plane raises queries about crew preparedness

Questions are being raised about how prepared flight crews are to deal with medical emergencies after an elderly man died on a WestJet flight from Hawaii to Calgary last week.

Flight crew took 10 minutes to find AED after elderly man initially found in medical distress

CBC News has learned CPR was performed for more than 30 minutes before it was determined the passenger had died. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Questions are being raised about how prepared flight crews are to deal with medical emergencies after an elderly man died on a WestJet flight from Hawaii to Calgary last week. 

The flight left Honolulu late at night on March 7 and was scheduled to land in Calgary the morning of March 8. Midway through the flight, flight attendants were overheard asking if there was a doctor or nurse on board.

A woman on the plane identified herself as a nurse.

The nurse was led to a passenger seated in the middle of a row near the front of the plane who appeared to be in his 80s.

AED couldn't be found

CBC News was told the nurse called for help moving the man to the floor. 

The flight crew were told to get an AED (automated external defibrillator) and the crew was seen searching overhead bins.

It was around 10 minutes before the AED was located.

Automated external defibrillators are designed to be simple to use for the layperson. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, if delivered in the first few minutes, defibrillation and CPR can double the survival rate of cardiac arrest, but with each passing minute, the probability of survival decreases seven to 10 per cent.

CBC News does not know whether an AED would have helped in this case.

AED finally found​

CBC News has learned CPR was performed for more than 30 minutes before it was determined the passenger had died.

The man's body was then lifted into a seat and secured there for the remainder of the flight.

Calgary EMS confirmed paramedics responded to the flight once it landed at Calgary International Airport at 6:30 a.m. and an elderly man on board was pronounced dead.

In a statement, a WestJet spokesperson confirmed there was a medical incident on the flight and said the flight crew utilized the AED and conducted CPR with the assistance of a nurse who was on board.

When asked if the 10-minute time frame to locate the AED was acceptable to the airline, the spokesperson said, "from the initial debrief with our crew members, we are comfortable with the way the situation was handled during this unfortunate incident."

According to the airline, all WestJet planes are equipped with a medical emergency kit, MEDAire satellite phone that allows for direct access to emergency physicians and an AED.

"Both the MEDAire satellite phone and AED are above and beyond what is required by the regulator," read the email.

"An aircraft cabin can be a challenging environment for a medical situation to occur and WestJet wants to be able to provide our guests with the best possible medical response should it be required."

Transport Canada told CBC News medical emergencies that happen on board aircraft do not have to be reported to the agency.

With files from Andrew Brown