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Coroner ‘struggling’ with British Airways explanation of why defibrillator was not used

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An in-flight defibrillator was not used after a teenage girl suffered a fatal allergic reaction because it was “too dangerous”, a British Airways employee has told an inquest.

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, who had numerous allergies, collapsed on a flight from London to Nice after eating an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette from Pret A Manger.

The youngster reacted to sesame seeds in the bread, which caused her throat to tighten and vicious red hives to flare up across her midriff, eventually triggering cardiac arrest.

On Thursday, the inquest at West London Coroner’s Court heard that the on-board defibrillator was not used in-flight because it was situated at the back of the plane.

Coroner Dr Sean Cummings said he was “struggling” to see why the full range of medical kit was not used when the teenager was clearly suffering.

Ednan-Laperouse family
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Ms Ednan-Laperouse collapsed on a British Airways flight from London to Nice

Defibrillation is a device that gives a high energy shock to the heart through the chest wall to someone who is in cardiac arrest, and is an essential life-saving step in the chance of survival.

The coroner asked BA employee Clare Durrant why the defibrillator was not retrieved even though Ms Ednan-Laperouse was “blue, not breathing, unresponsive”.

Ms Durrant, a learning and development manager in crew learning, said it would have been too dangerous for cabin crew to get it from the other end of the aircraft when Ms Ednan-Laperouse went into cardiac arrest minutes before landing.

Dr Sean Cummings told the court: “I’m struggling a little bit with why the full range of kit wasn’t made available to Dr Pearson-Jones or why he wasn’t made aware of it.”

He added he did not find it “entirely logical” that there was a defibrillator at the back of the aircraft but other medical equipment at the front.

Thomas Pearson-Jones was a junior doctor on the flight.

The coroner added: “That sounds to me like a quantum leap in terms of the judgments that your crew are being asked to make.

The family of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse at her inquest in Central London
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The family of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse at her inquest in Central London

“That doesn’t sound safe to me.”

Ms Durrant said that until “agonal breathing” in a passenger occurs, a defibrillator is not used.

The family’s lawyer, Jeremy Hyam QC, asked Ms Durrant to describe “agonal breathing”.

She described it as “not normal breathing”, and Mr Hyam said: “The evidence I have is that she was in severe distress… isn’t that agonal breathing?”

He later added: “How can it be a safe system to wait for cardiac arrest to arrive?”

Ms Durrant said the crew is there “primarily for safety” and undergo three days of training. She added that they understand a defibrillator is the “priority piece of equipment” to collect if someone is unconscious or not responding.

The family’s barrister went on to allege that BA’s safety system is wholly reliant on the chance that a medical practitioner happens to be on board to administer treatments.

Mario Ballestri, who helped Dr Pearson-Jones as he performed CPR on Natasha, also said it would have been too dangerous to get the device from the other end of the aircraft when the incident occurred.

Head of cabin crew John Harris was also asked why BA staff had not got the defibrillator.

Mr Harris said: “Without sounding harsh, the coverage of doors takes priority.”

Ms Ednan-Laperouse, from Fulham, west London, stopped breathing just “five to seven minutes” before the plane stopped moving after landing, the inquest was told.

Two epipens were jabbed into her legs, but she was later declared dead at a hospital in Nice.

The inquest is due to last until Friday.

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