updated 4/12/2004 3:01:46 PM ET 2004-04-12T19:01:46

Most commercial airplanes now must have cardiac equipment on board to help passengers who suffer heart attacks. The new Federal Aviation Administration rule, which affects about 2,600 airliners, went into effect Monday.

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Airliners staffed with at least one flight attendant must have the device, known as an automated external defibrillator. Some already carry the equipment. In 1998, a Boston man became the first person on a domestic flight to have his life saved by a defibrillator.

Defibrillators have already become standard equipment, like fire extinguishers, in many airports, convention centers and health clubs. The equipment can monitor a victim’s heartbeat and shock the heart back to a normal beat. Chances of survival are 90 percent if defibrillation is provided within one minute of the attack.

The FAA found that there were 119 cardiac-related events aboard aircraft resulting in 64 deaths between July 1, 1998 and June 30, 1999, said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown. During that period, automatic defibrillators were provided 17 times, saving four lives, she said.

Each year, about 250,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest. About 20 percent occur in public places, and 95 percent of victims die before reaching the hospital.

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