(Trinidad Guardian) Shocked passengers on board American Airlines (AA) flight 2703 destined for Trinidad watched on in horror on Friday as medical and cabin crew members tried to save the life of an 85-year-old woman.
The passenger, Nell Cuffie, also known as Helen, despite receiving treatment during the dramatic mid-air medical emergency, died.
The incident occurred after Cuffie went to use the toilet about one hour and 20 minutes before the flight arrived at Piarco International Airport.
The flight departed Miami International Airport at 10.41 am and was scheduled to land at 2.34 pm.
After an extended period in the toilet, the flight attendants opened the door and found Cuffie slumped over the toilet.
Cuffie was travelling with her younger brother Phipps Wilton and his wife Junette.
A passenger on the flight told the T&T Guardian that when Cuffie was found unresponsive, the flight attendants called on passengers with medical training to assist.
Several people came forward including CEO of the Global Medical Response of T&T Anderson Paul, as well as Sherar Andalcio, Kerdijra Ramoutar and Malisha Kirchren to provide medical care.
“The flight attendants gave her oxygen and used the automated external defibrillator (AED) machine to shock her while CPR was administered, but the woman did not budge,” the passenger recalled.
“That’s when we started to get scared and uneasy. We were all looking on in horror.”
The Boeing 737 plane was filled with passengers many of whom were locals returning home.
The pilot then made an announcement that he would have to divert the flight to St Kitts in order for Cuffie to obtain urgent medical attention.
Passengers were also advised not to use the rear toilet where Cuffie was being attended to.
“The flight attendant wrote out numbers on the beverage tissues which they handed out to passenger as a numbering system to use the toilet in front of the plane,” the passenger said.
The attendants began calling the numbers in an ascending order over the PA system.
“I got number 28. There were close to 200 passengers on the plane. They never reached my number because all attention was on this woman for over an hour.”
While the medical team battled with the patient, the passengers were left in wonderment because they did not know what was going on.
“No one said anything. Then we heard the woman had died and the pilot decided to fly the plane straight to Piarco instead of diverting to St Kitts, as he thanked all passengers for their understanding, cooperation and patience,” the passenger said.
When the plane touched down at 2.40 pm, passengers were not allowed to disembark the aircraft, as the District Medical Officer had to come on board and examine the decease.
“We had to remain seated in the plane for an hour until everything was sorted out,” the passenger said.
“After passengers left the plane, flight attendants expressed their grief and one crew member was crying,” a cabin crew member told the T&T Guardian.
Wilton, in a telephone interview yesterday, said everything was done on the aircraft to save his sister who he loved dearly.
“The doctors and cabin crew did everything humanly possible to resuscitate her, but they could not have saved her. They spent 90 minutes battling with Nell but God had a different plan. She was taken from us.”
After Cuffie’s husband died last year, Wilton said, “My sister was happy to come back home and live with me in Diego Martin. She migrated to the US where she worked in Florida for many years before retiring.”
Cuffie had no children.
Anderson extended condolences to Cuffie’s family yesterday.
An autopsy will be performed on Cuffie today at the Forensic Science Centre to determine the cause of death.