Mystery illness strikes Emirates passengers

Emergency services on hand after the airliner landed at JFK Airport in New York. Photo:  Larry...
Emergency services on hand after the airliner landed at JFK Airport in New York. Photo: Larry Coben/via REUTERS
Eleven people aboard an Emirates airline flight from Dubai were taken to New York hospitals with a mystery ailment after scores of passengers and crew complained of feeling sick during the 14-hour overnight trip from the Middle East.

The type of illness was not immediately confirmed, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement that symptoms included fever, coughing and fever.

The airliner, with at least 521 passengers, landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport at around 9am on Wednesday (local time) and was surrounded by dozens of ambulances and other emergency vehicles as anxious passengers waited to be evaluated by health officials.

The airline and the New York City mayor's office said 19 people were confirmed ill. Three passengers and seven crew members went to hospitals, and nine other passengers medically evaluated at the scene were released afterward, Dubai-based Emirates said.

CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes later said 11 people were taken to hospitals, though he was not certain if they were admitted, and that the nine others confirmed as being sick had declined further medical care.

The remainder of the passengers were allowed to leave and clear customs, the airline said.

The CDC said in its statement that as many as 100 passengers and crew members reported feeling sick during the flight from Dubai.

Haynes said it was possible that many or most of those who complained of illness were actually sick, but the number of confirmed cases was limited to the 19 or 20 who were screened at the airport because their symptoms were the worst.

The plane, a double-deck Airbus 380, was taken to a location away from the terminal so emergency officials could evaluate the situation, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officials said in a statement. The A380 is the world's largest passenger aircraft.

Diala Makki was traveling first-class on Flight 203 en route to New York Fashion Week when she learned from flight crew that a number of people onboard had become sick and passengers would be detained until officials made checks.

"The Emirates cabin crew were super helpful, they were not in panic mode, which was amazing," Makki, a 36-year-old television host from Dubai, said outside the airport.

Rap performer Vanilla Ice, who was a passenger on the jet, tweeted, "This is crazy. Apparently there is over 100 people sick on the bottom floor, so happy I’m up top. it’s a double-decker plane 380."

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