A Hawaiian Airlines plane in midair. File picture: Dylan Ashe
New York -  A Hawaiian Airlines flight to New York City was diverted to San Francisco after a flight attendant died on board, the airline announced on Friday.

The crew member, whom the San Mateo County Coroner's office identified as Emile Griffith of Pahoa, Hawaii, had worked for more than 31 years at the airline, the company said in a statement from Ann Botticelli, senior vice president of corporate communications.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss," the statement said. "Emile both loved and treasured his job at Hawaiian and always shared that with our guests. Our hearts are with Emile's family, friends and all those fortunate to have known him."

Nisael Navarro, a spokesman for the coroner, confirmed the death but declined to comment on what caused it.

The airline said that the flight took off with about 250 passengers from Honolulu around 4:15 p.m. and landed at San Francisco International Airport around 11 p.m. local time after it was diverted. Colleagues and passengers on board provided "extensive medical help," the airline said but did not give specifics. Author Andrea Bartz, who said she was on the flight, said on Twitter that a call had gone out for doctors to come to first class to assist with the patient.

Another passenger, identified as Breeze-Lyn Morita, told KRON 4 that the passengers were waiting on the plane for two hours after it landed.

"The other flight attendants were running back and forth, up and down the aisles, you could tell they were really really flustered and nervous, so we kind of had a feeling that it had to be something really really serious," she said.

An airport spokesman told NBC News that the crew member was believed to have had a heart attack during the flight.

The passenger said that most people assumed that something was going on with a passenger.

"We sincerely appreciate our guests' patience and understanding while our agents and crew worked with medical personnel upon arrival at SFO," the airline said. All passengers were rebooked and will be provided other compensation, the airline said. And it said it made counselling available for fellow employees.

The Washington Post