‘Gentle gay giant’ flight attendant dies of coronavirus after attending staff training course. Another 16 employees have tested positive
A gay man who worked as a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines is being mourned by his loved ones after he tragically died of coronavirus.
Jeff Kurtzman, 60, was one of 17 people to test positive after attending an employee training session in Honolulu in late June. He was admitted to hospital after returning home to Los Angeles, and died of complications relating to coronavirus just a few weeks later on July 21.
“I am heartbroken,” John Duran, council member and former mayor of West Hollywood, told The Advocate.
“We sang together in the gay men’s chorus and he was a sobriety brother of mine. He was a sweet and gentle giant. He gave away more to others than he received. He was an inspiration and a joyful presence in my life — and hundreds of others.”
Other West Hollywood locals have shared their grief on social media, describing Kurtzman as a “one-of-a-kind, gentle soul” and “a loving, generous, and kind man” with an “amazing sense of humour”.
Kurtzman had worked for Hawaiian Airlines for 34 years. Confirming his death in an email to staff, CEO Peter Ingram paid tribute to “his passion for discovering new places, people and cultures; his terrific sense of humour and knack for easy conversation; and his caring heart.”
“He embodied the values of aloha and malama that we hold dear,” he added in the email, seen by NBC.
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According to the Hawaii Department of Health, social distancing at the Hawaiian Airlines training session was non-existent and masks were optional.
Kurzman told a close friend he met after the session that some people “got a little lax on the second day”, but added: “I kept my mask on. I don’t want to get sick.”
Of the at least 16 employees that were infected, some went on to expose eight household members. It is believed that one infected person from the training program is also responsible for 20 additional cases at two Hawaiian gyms.
Hawaiian Airlines has now resumed its training with stricter rules on the use of face masks and social distancing.
“All of our instructors have been tested, and the approximately 60 employees who have been through recent training were asked to self-quarantine and monitor their health,” a statement read.
The airline is offering support to Kurtzman’s family and is monitoring those who are recovering from COVID-19.