Jeff Kurtzman and 16 others contracted the respiratory illness after attending the course in Honolulu in late June, the company confirmed to NBC Los Angeles, adding that it is now investigating if the cluster of cases stemmed from the training.
Kurtzman, 60, was admitted to hospital after returning home to Los Angeles and tested positive for COVID-19, Hawaiian Airlines CEO Peter Ingram confirmed in an email to staff, that was forwarded by the airline to NBC News after repeated requests for a statement.
He died on July 21.
Kurtzman had worked for the airline since 1986, Ingram’s email said.
“Over the past three decades had become well known to his in-Flight colleagues for his passion for discovering new places, people and cultures; his terrific sense of humor and knack for easy conversation; and his caring heart. He embodied the values of aloha and malama that we hold dear,” he wrote.
The airline was offering support to Kurtzman’s husband and family, Ingram said, adding that the company was also monitoring employees who are recovering from coronavirus.
“We are reminded every day that this virus is serious and highly transmissible,” Ingram wrote. “We have strengthened the mandates and protocols governing how we interact with each other at our facilities, and I urge us all to practice the utmost vigilance.”
Kurtzman told her that some people on the training course “got a little lax on the second day, ‘but I kept my mask on. I don’t want to get sick.'”
But he was unable to avoid the respiratory illness and got sick when he returned home.
“He’s such a beautiful man. He just kept apologizing. ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I know you must be scared,'” Florez said. “Really, we’ve lost an angel.”
Those at the training session were exposed to the virus in part because social distancing was nonexistent and masks were optional, according to the Hawaii Department of Health. Some of the at least 16 employees that were infected went on to expose eight household members.
The company said it resumed training last week with stricter rules mandating the use of face masks and constant social distancing.
Other friends also shared of Kurtzman’s caring nature.
“Jeff was a loving, generous, and kind man, and a rock in my life. He called me ‘Vickerson’ and I called him ‘Jefferson.’ I cannot even begin to comprehend this loss, but I want to share about his passing with the countless people who love and respect him,” Vic Gerami wrote on Facebook.
“You were one-of-a-kind, a gentle soul that touched so many people. Your generosity and love had no bounds.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.