A flight attendant for American Airlines died this week after testing positive for COVID-19, the airline and its flight attendants' union confirmed.

Paul Frishkorn, 65, is the first American Airlines employee to die of the novel coronavirus, and appears to be the first member of a flight crew in the US to die of it as well.

Frishkorn joined US Airways as a flight attendant in 1997, more than a decade before US Airways and American Airlines merged to combine under the latter brand name in 2013. He was based in Philadelphia, the airline said, and had underlying health issues that made him more vulnerable to the virus.

The union that represented him, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said Frishkorn had been deeply involved as a representative with the unions at both American Airlines and US Airways.

"Our industry, our airline and all of us have been affected by COVID-19 in different ways," the union said in a communication to members. "But until now, we hadn't lost one of our own. This loss hits home in a very different, personal way from the headlines."

Lori Bassani, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said in a statement that Frishkorn was "recently spending time in the Philadelphia crew room, answering questions and assisting our members through this difficult time."

"Paul's death sheds a solemn light on our profession as front line workers," Bassani said. "It underlines the risk to our members who continue to work as 'essential workers' in the airlines."

In a statement, American Airlines said it lost a "respected, longtime member of the American Airlines family."

"Our hearts go out to Paul's loved ones, many of whom work for American," the statement read. "We are working directly with them to ensure they are cared for during this extraordinarily difficult time. He will be missed by the customers he cared for and everyone at American who worked with him."

There are about 120,000 flight attendants in the US, many of whom have been balancing health concerns with the need to work as the virus spreads.

As the outbreak has worsened, much of the US has locked down and countries around the globe have functionally shut their borders, leading to plummeting travel demand . Airlines have slashed capacity and grounded planes , and seen low load factors on the remaining flights.

But throughout January and February, as the virus was beginning to spread, flight attendants were still working with mostly normal flights aside from cuts to China, South Korea, and Italy, where outbreaks were most severe.

"With any sort of outbreak, flight attendants are always on the front lines," Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants the largest flight attendant union, which does not represent workers at American Airlines previously told Business Insider . She said that although airlines had mostly been proactive about protecting flight attendants, an inherent risk remained.

Are you an airline employee with thoughts on the current situation? Contact this reporter at dslotnick@businessinsider.com.

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