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Article
April 1, 1988

In-flight Deaths During Commercial Air Travel: How Big Is the Problem?

Author Affiliations

From the Center for the Evaluation of Emergency Medical Services, Division of Emergency Medical Services, King County Department of Public Health (Dr Cummins, Ms Schubach, and Mr Litwin), and the Department of Medicine, University of Washington (Dr Cummins), Seattle; the Medical Director's Office, British Caledonian Airlines, Gatwick, England (Dr Chapman); and the Department of Cardiology, Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, England (Dr Chamberlain).

From the Center for the Evaluation of Emergency Medical Services, Division of Emergency Medical Services, King County Department of Public Health (Dr Cummins, Ms Schubach, and Mr Litwin), and the Department of Medicine, University of Washington (Dr Cummins), Seattle; the Medical Director's Office, British Caledonian Airlines, Gatwick, England (Dr Chapman); and the Department of Cardiology, Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, England (Dr Chamberlain).

JAMA. 1988;259(13):1983-1988. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720130047028
Abstract

Do passenger deaths occur during commercial air travel? If so, how often and from what causes? We reviewed information reported to the International Air Transport Association on in-flight deaths that occurred during commercial air travel for the eight years between 1977 and 1984. Of the 120 airlines in the International Air Transport Association, 42 carriers reported deaths during these eight years. A total of 577 in-flight deaths were recorded, for a reported average of 72 deaths per year. Deaths occurred at average rates of 0.31 per million passengers, 125 per billion passenger-kilometers, and 25.1 per million departures. The majority of those who died were men (66%, 382/577) and middle-aged (mean age, 53.8 years). Most of the individuals (77%, 399/515) reported no health problems prior to travel. Physicians aboard the aircrafts offered medical assistance for 43% (247/577) of the deaths. More than half of the deaths (56%, 326/577) seemed to be related to cardiac problems. Sudden unexpected cardiac death was the cause of death in 63% (253/399) of the apparently healthy people and seems to be the major cause of death during air travel. These observations support the initiation of programs to train cabin personnel in the skills of basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation and in the use of automatic external defibrillators.

(JAMA 1988;259:1983-1988)

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