Hazmat team called to US flight over Ebola 'joke'

A screenshot from a video on YouTube that has been viewed more than two million times of a hazmat team boarding US Airways Flight 845 from Philadelphia to the Dominican Republic tourist resort of Punta Cana on Wednesday after a passenger reporte
A screenshot from a video on YouTube that has been viewed more than two million times of a hazmat team boarding US Airways Flight 845 from Philadelphia to the Dominican Republic tourist resort of Punta Cana on Wednesday after a passenger reportedly joked "Hey, I've got Ebola, you're screwed." -- PHOTO: YOUTUBE

NEW YORK (AFP) - Ebola has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa and sown worldwide fear, so it was no laughing matter when a passenger on a US Airways flight "joked" that he was infected.

The man, allegedly coughed and sneezed through US Airways Flight 845 from Philadelphia to the Dominican Republic tourist resort of Punta Cana on Wednesday.

He was reported to have said: "Hey, I've got Ebola, you're screwed."

After the flight reached its destination, a member of the cabin crew requested all passengers sit down before a squad of officers in blue Hazmat suits boarded the aircraft.

"It's going to look worse than it is," the attendant spoke over the intercom as she sought to calm nerves.

"I've done this for 36 years. I think the man that has said this is an idiot," she added.

Footage of the incident went viral on the Internet, and was viewed more than 2.4 million times by midday Friday since it was uploaded to YouTube.

The male passenger could be overheard on the video telling the Hazmat team, "I was just kidding" and "I ain't from Africa," as he was escorted off the aircraft.

A US Airways spokeswoman told AFP that the incident delayed disembarkation of the aircraft. Airline officials were unable to estimate how much money the episode may have cost.

An airline statement said the flight was met by local officials upon landing "due to a possible health issue on board" and apologised for any inconvenience.

US Airways said the flight was checked and cleared by officials, and that the safety of customers and staff was its "first priority".

"We are following the direction of, and strictly adhering to, all Centres for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in place for airlines in response to the Ebola virus," it added.

The first death from Ebola on US soil in Texas on Wednesday fanned concern in the United States where major cities are ramping up efforts to prevent an American outbreak of the disease.

Five US international airports are to start new screening measures of passengers arriving from West Africa, beginning with JFK in New York on Saturday.