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Mother of infant who overheated on plane: ‘I thought I was going to lose my son’

ABC News
ABC News

(NEW YORK) — The mother of an infant who overheated during a tarmac delay in Denver last month says she feared for her son’s life.

Emily France told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” in an exclusive interview that aired Thursday that she and her 4-month-old baby, Owen, boarded the flight at Denver International Airport that was bound for El Paso at around 1:20 p.m. on June 22. Temperatures at the airport had climbed to 90 degrees that morning.

After passengers boarded flight United Express 4644, poor weather along the route caused it to be delayed.

Even when air conditioning on a plane is functioning properly, as United indicates was the case that day, it’s not unusual for the cabin to get warm when a plane is sitting on the tarmac. But the FAA expects airlines “to take appropriate action if a cabin temperature condition occurs on the ground that could potentially affect passenger safety.”

So when the Embraer ERJ-145 aircraft began to get warm, United flight attendants brought France bags of ice for her son and moved them to the front of the plane, near an open door.

After about an hour, according to France, crew members allowed passengers to step off the aircraft and onto the jet bridge to cool off.

“It was extremely hot. And everyone around me was complaining,” said France.

France told ABC News she and her baby reboarded after 15 minutes when the plane was to make another attempt at departure.

This time, the plane pushed back from the gate before being delayed again. The flight sat in a holding area on the tarmac, and according to France, temperatures in the cabin began to rise.

“He made a cry that I’ve never heard before,” she said of Owen. “And– his coloring– I’ve never seen that color before.”

Flight attendants again brought France ice for her son and moved them to near an open door on the plane.

“He was screaming and then he just stopped. And my son went limp in my arms. And I said, ‘Call an ambulance, and get me off the plane,'” France said.

“I thought I was going to lose my son in my arms,” she said.

Crew members then called for paramedics, according to the mother.

France said United crew members scrambled to find a way to evacuate her and her child, but they apparently couldn’t find available stairs or a jet bridge.

“It was complete chaos,” she said.

United Airlines said the aircraft was back at the gate about 11 minutes after the captain’s call for paramedics.

In France’s interview with ABC News on Thursday, she said could not recall how long it took to return to the gate.

In June, she told the Denver Post it took approximately 30 minutes.

United Airlines told ABC News that paramedics tended to the child, and a Denver International Airport spokesperson told ABC News that medics were called that afternoon for an infant suffering from shortness of breath.

Once the plane returned to the gate, Owen was taken to a hospital emergency room. He recovered and returned home later that day.

ABC News asked United for a response to France’s account. The airline sent ABC News the following statement on Thursday: “This should never have happened. We are profoundly sorry and apologize to our customer and her child for the experience they endured. We are continuing to look into what happened to prevent this from occurring again.”

France has not yet decided if she is going to file a lawsuit, but says United was unprepared for such an emergency. She told ABC News she is speaking out “in hopes that another mom or parent never has to go through this ever again.”

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