Emergency responders at the Twin Cities airport on Monday removed an unresponsive, partly clothed woman from the back of a commercial airliner in an effort to render medical aid.
She died shortly after she was found in the rear bathroom of an American Airlines Boeing 737 flying from Dallas to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, said MSP spokesman Patrick Hogan.
A passenger, distressed by what he saw, said the woman was naked from the waist down when she was removed and that emergency workers should have covered her.
"She was not half-naked," said passenger Dave Sampsell in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. "Her pants were unfastened, but I saw nothing that any of the airline or EMT staff did inappropriately."
American Airlines officials said the woman was wearing underwear and a shirt when she was taken off the plane on a portable stretcher following what airport police classified as a possible case of cardiac arrest.
"That's baloney," said passenger Art Endress. He said he was seated not far from the bathroom when an emergency medical technician (EMT) boarded with other responders, stood behind her head and "dragged her down the aisle."
"The EMT was out of line," said Endress, 63, a research engineer at Southern Methodist University.
"The flight attendants could have thrown a blanket on her" as she went past some of the 150 or so seated passengers, Endress added.
Hogan said responders from Allina Health and the airport "were focused on trying to save her life and get her in the jetway, where they can continue to try to resuscitate her."
Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American, said flight crew members do what they can "when a passenger is in medical distress" and then "hand over the responsibility for the passenger to the local first responders [and] stand clear of the situation. We let them do their work."
Relatives identified the woman as Theresa Hines, 48, of Carrollton, Texas, and said she was traveling alone.
Endress said a passenger who was sitting near the woman told him Hines walked toward the bathroom about halfway into the flight of 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Flight attendants would not necessarily notice whether a passenger has been in a bathroom for a long time, Feinstein said.
"If a flight attendant is made aware of a passenger in the lavatory for an extended period of time, of course a flight attendant will check on the passenger to make sure they are all right."
Endress said he first became aware of the situation when the flight attendants were going through landing directions and determined that someone was still in the bathroom.
After the attendants got no response to their knocks and inquiries, the door was opened and they asked for any doctor or nurse who might be aboard.
American Airlines officials said a "team of flight attendants, a doctor, three nurses and other folks tended to our passenger before the flight landed."
Airline officials noted that Hines was in the bathroom when she fell into distress. Police estimated that she had been in the bathroom for 45 minutes.
"Our team and others did what they could do to preserve her modesty while working to save her life."
Hogan said the pilot called the airport and requested emergency medical help.
The firefighters along with an Allina ambulance stationed at the airport were waiting when the plane landed.
The woman, taken off the plane on the tarp-like stretcher that partly covered her, was brought to the jet bridge where emergency workers spent about an hour trying to revive her.
"We are deeply saddened by this event and our thoughts and prayers go out to our passenger's loved ones," the airline said in a statement.
The remaining passengers were kept on board while resuscitation efforts resumed, Endress said. After about an hour, a tarp was put up in the jetway to shield the woman as the passengers were allowed to leave.
A fund-raising campaign has been started online to help Hines' family with funeral expenses.
Star Tribune staff writer M.L. Smith contributed to this report.