A woman gave birth on a plane from South Africa to New York after she went into labor at 38,000 feet over West Africa.
Four hours into the South African Airways Flight 203, 17-year-old Fatawmatt Kaba of Angola went into labor. Crew members hurriedly escorted Kaba to the front of the plane, and the pilot asked over the aircraft’s loudspeaker if there was a doctor on board.
To his surprise, two doctors and one nurse were on the plane. The three helpers, including pediatric anesthesiologist Dr. Julie Williamson, aided the woman in the birth.
Williamson was returning home to California from a medical conference in South Africa when she was forced to deliver a baby for the first time in 15 years. She recalled of the delivery:
“It was exhilarating. While there was a lot of discussion whether to divert the flight, she made the decision for us by saying, ‘Push!’ And when we checked, the baby was crowning, and she delivered him in two pushes.”
Both the woman who gave birth on the plane and her son were taken to Jamaica Medical Center in New York. While her son nursed straight away, Kaba was strong and apparently never cried at all. Jamahl Winter, an onlooker, recalled, “I didn’t think stuff like that really happened in real life. I thought it was something that happened in TV and movies.”
The pilot initially considered having the flight diverted because of the medical situation, but the flight continued from South Africa to New York after the doctors determined both mother and son were in perfect health. The crew swaddled the baby in airline blankets after his birth, while his mother returned to her seat next to Williamson.
Kaba stated later that she was on her way to visit family in New York when she unexpectedly went into labor. Because the woman gave birth on the airplane, her son, Mamel Joell, is not a US citizen. Despite this, Kaba stated, “I’m very happy. I’m fine. He’s fine.”