Twenty-six passengers on a Qantas flight from Santiago to Sydney were struck down with a gastro intestinal illness midflight, resulting in a mass vomiting and diarrhoea episode.
A team of paramedics met flight QF28 when it landed at Sydney Airport on Thursday and treated the ill passengers, who were all part of the same tour group returning to Australia after celebrating World Youth Day last month in Brazil.
Three of the passengers were so ill they had to be stretchered off the plane.
The teenagers and several of their teachers were experiencing vomiting and diarrhoea throughout the 13-hour flight from Chile to Australia on the Boeing 747-400, which has fewer than 10 toilets on board.
NSW Health said their symptoms were consistent with norovirus infection.
Qantas confirmed that a number of passengers travelling in the same group were struck down on the flight with an illness before they landed in Sydney.
"It is believed the illness was contracted before boarding the aircraft and symptoms became evident during the flight," a Qantas spokesperson said.
"The aircraft has been met by medical staff to look after the unwell passengers.
"As a precaution, other passengers have been advised to keep a close eye on their health over the next 24 to 48 hours and seek medical advice if they become unwell."
The plane was quarantined and moved to an area at the airport where medical staff could triage and assess the patients. The plane was also disinfected.
Sixteen passengers were then taken to Prince of Wales Hospital and St George Hospital for treatment.
Catholic Education Melbourne confirmed the students and their teachers had travelled to South America for World Youth Day on a two-week Archdiocese of Melbourne trip, and were returning home when they became sick.
In a statement, the NSW Ministry of Health said the group had developed "vomiting and diarrhoea on the plane" consistent with norovirus infection, which is a common cause of outbreaks of gastroenteritis in Australia and elsewhere.
"NSW Health has provided Qantas with a letter and fact sheet about viral gastro to distribute to all departing passengers, as well as advice for cleaning and cabin staff," NSW Health said in a statement.
It said the sick group was assessed by paramedics and escorted out of the airport "with minimal exposure to other passengers".
One passenger, Lisa McCormick, told the ABC that the teenagers were all from Melbourne and the regional Victorian city of Sale.
She said they "unfortunately were rather sick for the whole entire flight. What a terrible way to end their holiday".
"It just gradually wore through them all as the flight wore on, and it was 13 hours so it was a very long flight for them," she said.
Sydney nurse Madeleine Enwright helped to treat the teenagers on the flight, along with two doctors who were also travelling on QF28.
"We just took their blood pressures to see if they were severely dehydrated," she said.
"The worst that they were was a little bit dehydrated but nothing serious, it's just symptomatic treatment really."
- Sydney Morning Herald