Airline procedure required the captain to decide whether to return to base or land at the nearest airfield. Picture: Supplied.

It’s everyone’s worst travel nightmare: Having to witness someone being sick or dying on a plane. 

The passengers and crew members experienced that on a British Airways flight from Cape Town International Airport to OR Tambo International Airport on Wednesday. 

At first, everyone on board the flight assumed that the woman was sleeping, but when it was time to disembark the plane, and she was not responding, paramedics confirmed that she died.  

Susan Van Der Ryst, the Corporate Communications Head for Comair, said emergency medical personnel boarded the aircraft as soon as it landed in Johannesburg. 

The recent incident has prompted us to ask the question: “What is the protocol does an airline follow when someone falls ill or dies on board a plane?”

Ryst explained that airline procedure required the captain to decide whether to return to base or land at the nearest airfield should the condition of a passenger be critical and immediate hospitalisation is required. 

“The captain will call ahead for medical support at the relevant airport. While the aircraft is being positioned to land, the cabin crew, who are trained in basic first aid and life support will assist the ill passenger as best they can.

“The crew may also ask for assistance from any passenger on board who is a medical doctor or qualified health practitioner,” she said. 

Ryst said the level of medical equipment onboard an aircraft is prescribed by Civil Aviation Regulation, the requirements of which are amended by the South African Civil Aviation Authority when the relevant international standards change.

She added that with incidents like the woman’s death, the South African Police Service does open an inquest docket.

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