Family wants answers after veteran dies on flight, airline waits 16 days to notify

- A family with Charlotte ties is begging for answers after their father mysteriously died on an overseas flight and the airline waited 16 days to tell them.

"Just really hurting," said  12-year-old Jayden, nearly two weeks after his father died. "We were really close. Every time he was home I would spend my time with him."

Norman Easy, 57, was an Army veteran who served in Iraq. On Dec. 7, he died mid-air on board China Eastern Airlines during a routine business flight to Shanghai. In a text message, he is seen holding a glass of champagne and wrote to his family: "About to take off - love you all!"

"My husband was a very family person," said Easy's wife, Nitsia. "He loved his family. He was very active."

Easy passed away at some point during the flight, which departed from New York's JFK Airport, according to the airline, the State Department and the US Consulate in Shanghai. 

The family became concerned when Easy didn't contact them after the flight landed, which he would normally do, Nitsia said. Their son, Marcus, reached out to Easy's co-workers in Shanghai, who also became concerned when Easy missed a work meeting and never checked into his hotel. 

"They sent out people looking at the airports, the hospitals, police stations and his hotel looking for him," said Marcus. 

Local police told his co-workers that a person matching Easy's description was taken to the hospital, Marcus said. 

The family contacted the US Consulate in Shanghai, which confirmed Easy's death on Dec. 9. However, the airline waited until Dec. 23 to notify the family - 16 days later, despite Easy's wife being listed as an emergency contact, according to the family. 

If the family hadn't taken the initiative on their own they feel they would still be in the dark. 

"What is procedure for contacting the family if something happens? What is the procedure?," asked Nitsia. "The airline never even contact us. This is not possible."

In a Dec. 23 email, officials with China Eastern told the family Easy was asleep most of the flight and declined food when he was awake. A flight attendant found him "cold and unconscious" at some point and "took immediate action to resuscitate him." A defibrillator was used and two doctors offered assistance to no avail, the airline said. 

"While waiting for the investigation report from local police, we were trying eagerly to connect with you to offer our help," the airline said in the email. 

Nitsia questions why they didn't just call her since she was listed as an emergency contact. The family also points out that they never received an email or call until after FOX 46 started asking questions. 

"We appreciate FOX, we appreciate you guys," said Marcus. "Because definitely once they seen the media contacting, the ball got rolling a bit more."

"They started making it more high priority," he added. "Instead of some guy who died on a plane."

Easy's body arrived home on Dec. 29. The company he worked for, Siemens, arranged the transportation and covered the cost, the family said. 

In a statement, China Eastern says it reported Easy's death to "relevant departments." The airline's acting spokesman, Boyd Bailey, who sent the statement, refused to elaborate when asked what "departments" the airline contacted. Bailey also would not say why Nitsia, Easy's emergency contact, was never notified by the airline that her husband was taken off their plane without a pulse.

Her son, Marcus, who first contacted FOX 46, was the one who China Eastern eventually notified after a more than two week delay.   

"With the assistance of the US Consulate General in Shanghai," a statement provided by Bailey, attributed to the airline said, "China Eastern made contact with the family and we express our deepest condolences for their loss."

Autopsy results are pending. 

"Now the grieving process can actually start," said Marcus. "Before it felt like it was on hold."

The family wants to know how far into the flight their father was found unresponsive and if an emergency landing would have made a difference. 

Since China Eastern is an international airline, it's unclear what rights or legal recourse the family may have. FOX 46 reached out to the FAA and the Department of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection. Both agencies were unavailable for comment due to the government shutdown.

China Eastern Statement

"On December 7, 2018, Mr. Norman Alexander Easy bordered China Eastern Airlines flight MU588 from New York (JFK) to Shanghai (PVG). He was found unconscious in his seat before the flight arrived in Shanghai. The crew and doctors worked hard to rescue him but failed in the end. In accordance with related regulations and policies, China Eastern Airlines reported it to relevant departments which notified Mr. Easy's family and company of his death afterwards. With the assistance of the U.S. Consulate General in Shanghai, China Eastern made contact with the family and we express our deepest condolences for their loss. China Eastern is working closely with all parties concerned to provide assistance to the family. Additional information is subject to the police investigation."

State Department Statement

The US State Department is aware of the situation and sent FOX 46 the following statement:

"We can confirm the tragic death of a U.S. citizen, Norman Easy, aboard a flight to Shanghai. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We have been in contact with his family and are providing all appropriate consular services. Out of respect for the family during this difficult time, we have no further comment."

This story was reported from Charlotte, N.C.

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