On February 14, 1992, an Aerolíneas Argentinas crew accidentally distributed food contaminated with cholera to the passengers flying between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Los Angeles, United States, with a stopover in Lima, Peru. Due to the incident, a traveler died.
A cholera outbreak
Between 1991 and 1992, Peru had a cholera outbreak that led to over 400,000 cases and over 3,100 deaths, according to a report by the World Health Organization in August 1992. Somehow, the appearance of cholera in the country led to a full outbreak onboard an Aerolineas Argentinas’ flight on Valentine’s Day, 1992.
Aerolíneas Argentinas was operating the flight 386 between Buenos Aires and Los Angeles, with a stopover in Lima, Peru. The airline was using a Boeing 747-200, registration LV-MLR. There were 336 passengers and 20 crew members onboard the flight, of which 297 had the United States as the final destination. Of the remaining 39 passengers, two were heading to Canada and 37 to Japan, reported The New York Times at the time.
How did the outbreak happen?
According to Los Angeles County Health Department, one passenger, Anibal Cufre, 70 years old, died from cholera, and five showed signs of the illness. Additionally, 172 passengers and one crew member submitted positive cholera tests by March 4, following Aerolíneas Argentinas flight 386.
Cholera does not transmit through the air or by casual contact. After an investigation, the County Department of Health Services determined that a shrimp dish or shrimp salad was the most likely vehicle of infection.
Following the cholera outbreak on Aerolíneas Argentinas flight 386, both the Argentinian and Peruvian governments got into a diplomatic argument.
According to Argentina, the disease came from the food taken onboard at Lima International Airport, while Peru replied it originated with a passenger boarded in Buenos Aires.
The whole event escalated, with the Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, complaining that Buenos Aires was trying to smear the country’s image.
As a result of the controversy, Argentina suspended all flights into Lima, and Peru banned Aerolíneas Argentinas from entering its territory.
Meanwhile, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) stated that Aerolíneas Argentinas had a responsibility on the matter. An airline can’t be oblivious to its flight’s safety by subcontracting catering or other services to third parties, said ICAO. In 1995, WHO, ICAO, and the International Maritime Organization developed agreements on the management of transmission risks for cholera and other infectious diseases by air and sea.
About the aircraft
Aerolíneas Argentinas’ Boeing 747 fleet had interesting stories throughout its history. Yesterday, we spoke about a B747-200 registration LV-MLO that was supposedly haunted by the spirit of a former flight attendant. A comment on that story led us to this cholera article.
Flight 386 took place onboard a B747-200 registration LV-MLR. This aircraft was ordered by Aerolíneas Argentinas on June 29, 1978. It had its first flight on October 5, 1979, and Boeing delivered it 21 days later, according to ch-aviation.
The Argentinian state carrier operated the aircraft between 1979 and 2006. It had 94,455 flight hours and 17,637 flight cycles. Aerolíneas used LV-MLR on the first transpolar flight between Buenos Aires and Auckland in 1980. In 2005, the aircraft was retrofitted and used as the presidential jet. One year later, it was retired; the plane is currently on display at the headquarters of the Flight Technicians Association in the Argentinian city of Luján, according to local reports.
Do you know of other disease outbreaks onboard commercial flights throughout history? Let us know in the comments below.