MAF spray 'flattens' asthmatic

By Craig Borley

A severely asthmatic Wanganui woman suffered a potentially fatal asthma attack at Auckland Airport on Sunday after being forced to stay on an Air New Zealand plane while it was fumigated.

Terena Currey was saved by her inhaler and quick-thinking cabin staff, who brought her an oxygen tank.

She recovered, but was still wheezing and feeling the effects of the attack last night.

Ms Currey had learned of the fumigation only when flight NZ9 touched down in Auckland at 8.30am, after a journey from Hawaii via Fiji.

The fumigation was a separate incident from that reported in yesterday's Herald.

The aircraft used was a chartered 767 which does not usually fly to New Zealand, and therefore had to be sprayed manually.

Speaking from Wanganui, Ms Currey said she immediately alerted cabin staff to her concerns.

"I thought, that's not good. Because I can't handle any sprays at all."

She explained her condition, confirmed by her medic-alert bracelet, to the staff and asked to be removed from the plane before fumigation.

She told them her asthma attacks and anaphylaxis - requiring an adrenaline injection to treat - were potentially fatal. The staff agreed she should leave the plane, and were helping her off when two Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) officers arrived.

Cabin staff told the officers of Ms Currey's condition, but were over-ruled by one.

"He just said, 'Where's your doctor's letter?' I said it was in my bag, in the cargo hold. So he said 'No, you can stay on'."

The officer refused to reverse that decision. Ms Currey raced back to her seat, and the fumigation began, with a white mist floating over the passengers throughout the cabin.

She was "completely flattened" by the thick cloud of spray. She felt like someone was sitting on her chest, squeezing her lungs from the inside.

"It was a very sharp pain, with every breath. It was scary as hell. You're scared it's not going to stop."

Passengers were coughing, babies were crying, the stewards had rags over their mouths and Ms Currey was bundled under blankets by sympathetic cabin crew members, who eventually brought her an oxygen tank.

The attack was so bad Ms Currey could not walk for a time, and had to stay on the plane while she recovered.

Asthma Foundation executive director Jane Patterson said asthma was not a trivial health matter and killed almost 200 people each year in this country.

Ms Currey had made the point she was concerned, had the medic-alert bracelet to prove she was serious, and should have been allowed off the plane.

MAF director of passenger clearance Leanne Gibson said the ministry accepted and regretted Ms Currey had been put at risk. But the officer responsible had been following MAF guidelines - that passengers claiming medical conditions must produce a medical certificate - designed to stop entire plane-loads of passengers falsely claiming medical problems and exiting and aircraft before a spraying.

"So we've made it very difficult for the officers. And in this particular case, routine procedure has caused distress."

Ms Gibson said MAF would now review that process.

- NZ Herald

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