“Is there a doctor on board?” They’re words you hope never to hear when you’re hurtling through the air 35,000 feet up, but hear them we did on our 13-hour flight to the US from Dubai earlier this summer.
At the point at which a decision had to made whether the airplane would traverse the Atlantic or not, the captain spoke over the intercom to tell us that a passenger was seriously ill (suspected heart attack) and we’d be landing at Manchester airport as soon as possible.
On a beautiful, almost cloudless morning in England, the plane swooped towards the Earth, turning full circles in the sky as it jettisoned fuel. On reaching the correct weight, we were vectored straight in for a priority landing, then trundled along taxi-ways to an ambulance waiting on the tarmac.
A medical drama it was (and my heart went out to the poor lady travelling alone, on oxygen, and being cared for by the doctor who’d stepped forward, a team of specialists in Arizona via a satellite medlink and flight attendants). The paramedics on the ground, who must have seen it all, were chatting to each other calmly as they waited for the steps to be maneuvered into place. Finally, the aircraft door was opened and they boarded the plane with their equipment and a George Clooney-esque air.
It was all very surreal – one minute you’re in a sealed tube skimming the upper atmosphere, plugged into the in-flight entertainment and wondering when the next meal is. The next there’s a sort of grave hushed silence as the plane diverts and is met on the ground with flashing lights and medical personnel.
I never did find out whether she was okay, although I was heartened to hear from DH that the medical facilities at Manchester airport are excellent.
Imagine if we’d been flying over the Pacific, or some other desolate part of the world.
Sixteen hours after leaving Dubai, we reached the East Coast of America (refuelling and paperwork took ages to complete, and, no, you’re not allowed off). Understandably enough, everyone was massively relieved to finally disembark the plane – while at the same time hoping the poor fellow passenger we’d left behind (thousands of miles away from her home) was making a recovery.
Kudos to everyone who acted so proficiently during this life-saving mission – and may your flights back home this summer be uneventful!