Plane Quarantined at US Airport After Passengers Mysteriously Fall Ill

By Matt Novak on at

Investigators from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are currently investigating a plane on the tarmac at JFK International Airport in the state of New York after several passengers became ill.

Emirates Airlines Flight EK203 was in quarantine as officials determined why around 100 passengers complained of feeling ill, a CDC spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement, confirming early reports on that number. A spokesperson for Emirates told Reuters that just 10 passengers fell ill.

The flight landed safely at approximately 8:50am local time yesterday after taking off from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Before landing, the pilot informed ground control that two male passengers had fevers and that 100 of the 521 passengers on board were “coughing non-stop,” according to early reports.

In a statement to Gizmodo, Benjamin Haynes, a spokesperson with the CDC’s Infectious Disease Media Team, said passengers who did not report feeling ill will be permitted to continue their travels, although the agency may follow-up with some of them.

“Approximately 100 passengers, including some crew on the flight, complained of illness including cough and some with fever. CDC public health officers are working with port authority, EMS, and CBP officials to evaluate passengers including taking temperatures and making arrangements for transport to local hospitals for those that need care,” Haynes said. “Passengers who are not ill will be allowed to continue with their travel plans, and if necessary will be followed up with by health officials. There were approximately 521 passengers on the flight. We will have more information as passengers and crew members are evaluated.”

It’s not immediately clear what kind of illness the passengers may have, and authorities are investigating the matter. Government officials in Dubai are reportedly blaming “food poisoning” for the incident, though they’ve not provided details yet.

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s press secretary Eric Phillips has tweeted that the flight made a stop in Mecca before continuing to New York and that Mecca is currently experiencing a flu outbreak.

“Early indications point to that as a POSSIBILITY,” Phillips tweeted. “More to come.”

Passengers getting off EK203 and having their temperatures checked (Photo: Larry Coben/Twitter)

One of the passengers, Larry Coben, has tweeted photos showing people getting off the plane to have their temperatures taken. At 10:44am local time yesterday, Coben tweeted video of his ride to the terminal.

The New York mayor’s office has reported that all of the passengers are now off the plane and have been evaluated.

“19 sick. 10 to hospital and 9 refused medical attention,” Eric Phillips tweeted. “Health officials are processing tests now to determine the cause. Symptoms still pointing to the flu.”

After the passengers had left the plane, Emirates sent Gizmodo the following statement:

Emirates can confirm that all passengers have disembarked from flight EK203. All passengers were screened by the local health authorities prior to disembarkation, and three passengers and seven crew members were transferred to the hospital for further medical care and evaluation. Nine passengers underwent additional medical screening at the site near the aircraft and were released afterwards. The rest of the passengers were allowed to leave and clear customs. Our crew and on-ground staff extended our full cooperation to the authorities during the on-board screenings, and the aircraft has now been handed back to Emirates.

Due to the delay with the inbound flight, the return flight, EK204 from JFK to Dubai, will be delayed by approximately three hours. Passengers with connecting flights in Dubai who are impacted by the delay will be assisted with re-bookings by our local ground staff.

We apologise to our customers for any inconvenience caused. The safety and well-being of our customers and crew is always our top priority.

The CDC also just provided a new update with the latest news:

CDC was alerted earlier this morning of an Emirates flight from Dubai that arrived at JFK airport with passengers, including crew members, complaining of illness including cough, fever, and symptoms of gastrointestinal illness. CDC public health officers, working with port authority, NYC, NYS, EMS, and CBP officials, have completed health evaluations (including taking temperatures) of all 549 passengers and crew members on board.

11 individuals have been taken to a local hospital for care and the remaining passengers have been released. We are requesting the passengers who have been evaluated and released to call their provider and health department if they develop any symptoms, and to give their travel history and report of incident. They may receive a follow-up call from their health department just as a check-in.

Notably, the CDC reports that no determination has been made yet about why people have gotten sick.