Calgary

Consumer group urges Senate to require Canadian airlines to carry defibrillators

The Consumers' Association of Canada says it will urge the Senate to include mandatory medical supplies when it deliberates on legislation that could lead to a new airline passenger bill of rights.

Flight crew took 10 minutes to locate AED after elderly man 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)

The Consumers' Association of Canada says it will urge the Senate to include mandatory medical supplies when it deliberates on legislation that could lead to a new airline passenger bill of rights.

The suggestion was sparked by an incident aboard a WestJet flight from Hawaii to Calgary last week in which an elderly man died after suffering a medical emergency.

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 trip, flight attendants were overheard asking if there was a doctor or nurse on-board.

A woman on the plane who identified herself as a 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.

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

The flight crew was 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 percentage points. CBC News does not know whether an AED would have helped in this case.

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

In an emailed statement, a WestJet spokesperson said the flight crew utilized the AED and conducted CPR with the assistance of a nurse who was on-board.

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

"Both the MEDAire satellite phone and AED are above and beyond what is required by the regulator," said the airline spokesperson.

Bruce Cran, president of the consumers association, says Transport Canada should require the defibrillators on all airplanes.

"They should have them and they should know how to use them," he said.

"I've just finished adding it to some of the stuff we've been talking to the Senate about with the airline passengers bill of rights."

Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act, passed the House in December 2017, and is now before a Senate committee. 

Transport Canada currently lists defibrillators as an optional, but not required, piece of emergency equipment for Canadian airlines, according to the organization's emergency equipment regulations on its website. 

If airlines do provide additional medical equipment, like a defibrillator, the airline is required to train staff on how to operate the devices, a representative of Transport Canada told CBC in an email.

Planes are required to carry a list of emergency equipment including first aid kits, fire extinguishers, portable oxygen and flashlights.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has required all airlines based in that country to stock defibrillators on all airplanes since 2004.

With files from Andrew Brown