Trainee EasyJet pilot, 21, dies after mosquito bite on forehead caused infection in her brain

Oriana Pepper was training in Belgium when she was bitten on the forehead by a mosquito

A trainee easyJet pilot died after she was bitten by a mosquito and developed an infection which spread to her brain, an inquest heard.

Oriana Pepper, 21, from Bury St Edmunds, had passed her theory exams on the airline’s training programme and had a “wonderful career and life ahead of her”.

But while training in Belgium for her instrument ratings, she was bitten by a mosquito on her forehead close to her right eye and it appeared to get swollen and infected.

Oriana Pepper was training to be a pilot when she was bitten by a mosquito (Photo: PA)Oriana Pepper was training to be a pilot when she was bitten by a mosquito (Photo: PA)
Oriana Pepper was training to be a pilot when she was bitten by a mosquito (Photo: PA)

Miss Pepper reported soreness in her eyebrow and a red mark after a bite, and she also had a “dull ache” in her back.

Miss Pepper’s boyfriend James, who met her in Phoenix, Arizona, where she completed her private and commercial pilot licences, said they were "bitten multiple times without any reaction" after arriving in Antwerp on 20 May.

He said: "We were assured by locals it was normal for the area and time of year.”

Unfortunately Miss Pepper had a reaction to a bite and went to A&E on 7 July after her swelling "significantly worsened", Mr Hall said.

He said they were "advised she had an infection, likely due to the mosquito bite" and she was prescribed oral antibiotics.

She was then driven back to Antwerp hospital two days later by Mr Hall on 9 July after her face swelled and she collapsed in the shower.

Mr Hall said she "was delirious and had difficulty talking" so he drove her back to A&E.

Doctors gave the 21-year-old immunotherapy but her condition never improved and she fell into a coma.

Miss Pepper, who had a twin brother Oscar and older brother Oliver, sadly died in hospital three days later on 12 July with her parents by her bedside.

‘Such an unfortunate tragedy’

Suffolk’s senior coroner Nigel Parsley, recording a narrative conclusion, said Miss Pepper died "as a result of a serious infection caused by an insect bite to the forehead".

He told her parents on Wednesday (6 July): “I’ve never seen a case like this before.

"It’s just one of those things that’s just such an unfortunate tragedy for a young lady who clearly had a wonderful career and life ahead of her."

Miss Pepper’s medical cause of death was recorded as septic emboli in the brain, which are obstructions of blood vessels, with an infection by bacteria called staphylococcus aureus and an insect bite to the forehead also contributing.

Mr Parsley said: "An infection has entered Oriana’s skin following a bite by an insect.

"It’s then gone into the carotid artery of the neck and led to septic emboli in her brain."

In a statement read during the inquest, Mr Pepper said his daughter "loved nothing better than to go flying with her dad and her brother Oliver, also a trainee commercial pilot".

He said his daughter described flying as "having an office in the sky amongst the clouds".

He added: "She had met someone she loved, she was training to be a commercial pilot and was fulfilling her dreams."

Ms Pepper’s mother said after the inquest that in memory of their daughter, they had "set up a small scholarship to encourage other women pilots" to enter the profession, working with the British Women Pilots’ Association.

She said: "That’s a positive thing from her life.”

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