An Air New Zealand flight was bound for Auckland from Hong Kong, but was forced to stop in the town of Cairns, Australia, when a male passenger died mid-flight, according to the New Zealand-based Cairns Post.
The outlet reports the flight stopped at Cairns International Airport around 2:30 a.m. and was kept on the tarmac for two hours before the deceased passenger could be successfully removed.
Gerald Hutching, a reporter for Stuff, was on board the plane at the time and says he was told by an airport official that the man was in his 60s, had diabetes and forgot to bring his insulin with him while traveling.
A representative for the airport did not immediately reply to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Hutching says the airline staff called for medical assistance over the plane’s speakers about an hour into the ten-hour trip, and a doctor attended to the man on board for three to four hours.
“He was wearing an oxygen mask and at one stage they were using a defibrillator on him,” Hutching said. “He was hunched over [and] he didn’t look very conscious. He didn’t look in a good way.”
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According to the reporter, the man died during the descent into Cairns.
Hutching said that passengers were asked to stay in their seats upon the plane landing in Cairns and were “very patient during the whole incident.”
I don’t think any [of them] realized the gravity of the situation,” he said.
The Cairns Post reports airport sources told the outlet that after the plane landed, there was a “comedy of errors,” as no ground crew were available to assist in the removal of the body since it was so early in the morning, and the pilot didn’t want to use an air bridge so he wouldn’t put passengers at risk of seeing the dead body.
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According to the source, the staff brought up a set of stairs to the aircraft, but they were too small and didn’t meet the aircraft door.
“They were totally insufficient,” the source reportedly told the local news outlet. The paramedics had to put their kit on top of those stairs and stand on that and they were still only chest-high to the door.”
“They had to climb into that aircraft to attend to [the passenger],” the source added.
The paramedics then reportedly had to remove the body using those stairs, and two hours later, the plane took off to its scheduled destination.
Air New Zealand did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, but a spokesperson confirmed to news.com.au that a medical emergency occurred on board the flight.
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“NZ80 (Hong Kong – Auckland) diverted to Cairns on Monday morning when a passenger became unwell shortly after departure. As you’ll appreciate, due to privacy reasons, we’re unable to share further details about the passenger,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “After leaving Cairns, the aircraft continued on to Auckland, arriving about two hours after its scheduled arrival time.”
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