MIAMI – The airplane that carried the second confirmed Ebola patient from the U.S. later flew into a South Florida airport before it was taken out of service.
Wednesday morning officials confirmed a nurse who cared for Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan traveled on Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Oct. 13 before feeling symptoms of the virus.
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The same plane used on Flight 1143 was used on an Oct. 14 flight from Cleveland to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The plane with tail number N22OFR later returned to Cleveland that afternoon before heading on a route from Cleveland to Atlanta and then back.
Frontier removed the plane from service early Wednesday following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning, and according to reports, the airline said the plane was immediately decontaminated.
Officials learned Wednesday afternoon that the nurse may have, in fact, been symptomatic earlier than initially suspected, including the possibility of having symptoms while onboard the flight.
Frontier Airlines announced Wednesday night in light of the new information that the aircraft will remain out of service and will be ferried back to Denver from Cleveland without customers. There it will receive a fourth cleaning that will entail the removal of seat covers and carpets in the immediate vicinity of the infected passenger's seat. Environmental filters will also be changed.
"These extraordinary actions went beyond CDC recommendations," Frontier Airlines said in a statement. "These steps were taken out of concern for the safety of our customers and employees. Steps such as removing the aircraft from service, removing aircraft seat covers and carpet and replacing environmental filters as well as placing the crew on paid leave were not requested nor mandated by the CDC. Frontier expects that the aircraft will return to service in a few days."
CDC officials are asking all passengers on Monday's Flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth to check in to be interviewed.
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The nurse, identified as Amber Vinson, works at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where Duncan was treated before his death last week. Another nurse at the facility, Nina Pham, was diagnosed with Ebola over the weekend.
David Siegel, CEO of Frontier Airlines, sent an email to employees Wednesday night that read:
We know today has been challenging for Frontier Airlines team members so we felt it important to provide you with an update of the facts and our proactive response to the developments throughout the day.
We take today's events seriously as your safety and that of our customers is always at the forefront of everything we do.
Since we were notified by the CDC, we've proactively placed six crew members (two pilots; four flight attendants) on paid leave for 21 days out of an abundance of caution as the safety and security of our employees is our number one priority. This was over and above CDC guidance that stated that our flight crews were safe to fly.
We have also been working in close cooperation with our unions and appreciate their support on this issue.
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