Second American Ebola patient arrives in US when plane stops to refuel in Bangor

Posted Aug. 05, 2014, at 8:31 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 05, 2014, at 3:04 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A plane carrying missionary Nancy Writebol, the second American aid worker to contract the deadly Ebola virus while treating patients in Africa, touched down briefly in Bangor Tuesday morning to take on fuel and supplies before continuing on to Atlanta, where doctors will work to save her life.

The plane landed shortly after 8 a.m. at Bangor International Airport’s international terminal, where a fuel truck was waiting. Several crew members stepped off the plane while it was on the ground, and some took on bags, likely containing fresh supplies. One crew member, likely a pilot, walked around the plane, inspecting the wings while the plane refueled. U.S. Customs officials stood at the bottom of the plane’s stairs while the doors were open.

The plane was on the tarmac in Bangor for less than 30 minutes.

During the flight, Writebol, 59, is being held in an Aeromedical Biological Containment System, essentially a plastic tent that reduces the already minuscule risk of infection to the plane’s crew.

The medical plane that landed Tuesday was the same one that carried Dr. Kent Brantly to Atlanta for treatment on Saturday. Brantly contracted Ebola while treating patients in Liberia. The Centers for Disease Control have said that Brantly’s condition has been improving and that he was even able to walk, with assistance, from the ambulance into the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Bangor city officials were notified of the flights in advance, and Maine CDC director Sheila Pinette also said her agency learned of the transports late last week. Maine CDC was reassured by U.S. CDC that Maine people would not be at risk and that patients would not be allowed to disembark, she said.

Writebol and Brantly are believed to be the first Ebola patients ever treated in the United States. They served in Monrovia on a joint team run by Christian aid groups SIM USA and Samaritan’s Purse and are returning separately because the plane equipped to transport them can carry only one patient at a time.

U.S. health officials have stressed that Ebola poses little to no threat to the U.S. While the World Health Organization reports Ebola has infected more than 1,300 people and killed over 700 this year in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the United States has enough resources and enough adequate medical facilities to prevent the spread of the disease.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, said the federal agency would help ensure there is no risk of the virus spreading as the workers are transported and emphasized Ebola was not transmissible through casual contact. He also expressed hope on CNN that “irrational fears do not trump our compassion.”

Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan said Monday it was testing a man who traveled to a West African nation where Ebola has been reported.

The man, who came into the emergency room on Monday morning with a high fever and a stomach ache, was in “good condition,” and results of tests to find the cause of his symptoms were expected by Tuesday morning, hospital officials said. They believe it’s unlikely his symptoms were caused by Ebola, but quarantined him just 7 minutes after he walked into the hospital as a precaution.

Several Bangor officials commended Bangor airport staff for their small part in getting the Americans home for treatment without incident.

They should be “recognized for their work and professionalism and all the citizens of Bangor should be rightfully proud of the role our city played and to do so without incident and without any risk to the community,” said Councilor Joe Baldacci.

“I am proud that Bangor could play a small role in getting these two Americans the medical assistance they need,” Bangor City Council Chairman Ben Sprague said Tuesday. “The America I believe in leaves no one behind. These aid workers represent the best of us, serving overseas to make the world a better place and representing our country in the process. Darn right we bring them home. I’d say they’ve earned it.”

BDN reporter Jackie Farwell and Reuters contributed to this report.

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