Death on a Flight

Do you remember my dear friend Pamela, the Death Writer?  During her April A-Z challenge we had many a conversation about her various death topics which eventually got me a guest blogger spot on day “J” and also got me thinking about death related topics I wouldn’t have otherwise contemplated.

And with a mind like my own, in its own slightly ADD way, one thought inevitably veers off into something else.  The following is a snippet of a conversation between Pamela and I in which my mind wanders off, although not too far off:

Pamela: Well, if you die in a different state and need to be sent back to Illinois, you may have to be embalmed. Or pay for a refrigerated truck. I agree, it’s gross and I don’t want anyone to touch me when I’m dead other than to harvest my organs. Then they can torch me.

Me: I think for religious purposes they wouldn’t be able to enforce that. Maybe the refrigeration, but if an orthodox Jew died in California and wanted to be buried in New Jersey, I think gov’t would have a hard time forcing the family to embalm the body. Freedom of religion, you know?

Me: By the way, you just made me remember about the time I was on a plane and somebody died en route. It was a really sad case because she was with her two small children.

Pam: OMG!!!! Have you written about that??!!! No, they can’t force to embalm, but the body does have to be in a special container and refrigerated. We decompose pretty fast.

Me: Not much to write, really.

Pam: A mother died on a plane you were on and there isn’t much to write? Jill, I am going to tell on you to Diana Hume George.

Diana Hume George is a wonderful writer and a mentor of Pam and myself from our graduate school days.  She has quite a personality and a way of getting words out of you.

So with that threat in mind, I am taken back to the summer before my junior year of high school.  My mom and I boarded a plane to Paris where we would meet my dad who was already there on business (I know).  I had never been overseas before, but having taken AP European History during the school year, I felt more than prepared for the major sites and attractions.  Versailles, the Mona Lisa, bring it on!

Other than being the longest plane ride I had ever been on, there was nothing abnormal about this flight.  We got some less than mediocre food, several beverages, and a lot of quiet time to read, sleep, and contemplate life.

And then flight attendants were moving up and down the aisles a little faster than usual.  They whispered amongst themselves.  Then a passenger was summoned.  I can’t remember exactly what happened because I know there was no announcement asking for nurses or doctors, but somebody was brought back to help the stewardesses.

You know something is up when a passenger is asked to help.

I believe it was a nurse who helped out and that is when the whispering amongst the passengers ensued.  Nobody knew quite what was going on but considering a nurse-passenger was helping the flight attendants with another passenger, ideas were being thrown around.

“I think I heard its something with a young woman.”

“Did somebody die?”

“What happened?  Was it a heart attack?”

Now you have to take that with a grain of salt.   This happened at least eleven years ago and I don’t remember quotes at all.  What I remember is that when you’re flying over the Atlantic Ocean, you cannot do an emergency landing to get somebody to a hospital.

Somehow word got towards the front rows that a young woman had died while sitting in her seat.  She was with her two young children under the age of ten.

So what do you do with a body thousands of feet above the ground, flying over an ocean?  These particular flight attendants put it in an unused closet.  They told the children that their mommy needed to go take a nap and took the body away, somehow keeping them occupied until the plane landed in France.  Their father, the woman’s husband, was notified before landing.  Luckily she was French and heading back home and her husband would be there to get the children.  If I remember correctly, the nurse said nothing could have been done to save the woman because she suffered an aneurism.

That is the extent of what I remember.  I do remember envisioning a middle aged man with two small children watching his dead wife being rolled out of an airplane, but I never actually saw the children, the husband, or the woman.  At the time I couldn’t imagine being one of those children and I still can’t.  I was an extremely shy little girl and if somebody took my mother away even for a nap, I would have been screaming and crying.  My mother can nap right next to me, thank you very much!

I have since been throughout the USA, England, and Israel.  No other deaths have occurred while I have been in the air and I hope it stays that way.


6 thoughts on “Death on a Flight

    • I have no idea. I would think so because I don’t think there would be room in an airplane closet to lay a body down. It was just the only place they could put her that would be out of view of the passengers. You can’t keep a dead person in a passenger’s seat, especially if two adjacent seats are occupied by two small children.

  1. Wow. Those poor kids…

    In middle school I read a (fiction) book in which a character had a heart attack and died during a cross-country flight. It was the first time it had ever occurred to me that such a thing could happen. In the story, someone produces a body bag, as if by magic, but I always questioned whether it was standard practice to carry such an item on board.

    • That’s an interesting thought. In this particular case I have no idea if they had a body bag on had or not. They obviously would not have put the body in a body bag in front of the children.

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