Airline crew helps deliver baby during flight to TO

by Ron Fanfair
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Captain Damar Walker

Airline crew are trained to be ready for the unexpected.
Cruising over the Western Atlantic Ocean and midway into the nearly six-hour flight from St. Lucia to Toronto, Captain Damar Walker declared a ‘Pan-Pan’ after a passenger went into labour on Air Canada Flight 1879 on March 6.
The radiotelephony message is an international standard alert that there is an urgent situation that is not life-threatening.
Just as the first officer opened the cockpit door to go to the washroom, Walker heard the lead flight attendant ask for ‘any medical personnel on board to identify themselves’.
“Right away, I knew there was a medical emergency,” he said. “We were in a space where the options were to continue towards our final destination or return to the closest airport. I did not know then the nature of the emergency, but I started to think about where I should go.”
A few minutes later, Walker learned that a young woman’s water had broken and she was going into labour.
“Now I know what it is, but I did not know if there was a doctor on board,” he said.
After analyzing the flight plan, Walker and his first officer decided to divert the plane to Bermuda.
“We were at 36,000 feet and about 440 nautical miles away which is about one hour,” he said. “We asked for a re-route to go to Bermuda which is a longer flight path going up north. They gave us a descent to 31,000 feet which kept us away from conflicting traffic as we crossed over airways. We also got a new clearance from where we were direct to the airport (L.F. Wade International).”
While going through this process, the Captain contacted MedLink which allows Air Canada’s in-flight crews to consult with certified emergency physicians during a flight.
“Based on their expertise, we rely on them,” said Walker. “They agreed we should go to Bermuda where the closest airport was.”
Through a phone patch, the flight deck crew was in contact with dispatch on the ground in Toronto, updating their checklist for diversion.
“We put information in our computer that we are diverting and that updates all Air Canada systems, including the signs at the airport,” said Walker. “While we are doing this and 15 minutes after learning that the passenger’s water had broken, a flight attendant came into the cabin, asking for the medical key for the emergency medical kit locker.”
She also told the flight deck crew that the baby was born in the hands of the lead flight attendant and there were two obstetricians/gynecologists on the flight.
“Having doctors on board is common, but having not just one, but two specialists in the reproductive organs care and pregnancy is not,” Walker said. “We were blessed.”
About 25 minutes before landing in Bermuda, he learned the baby was stabilized and in good condition and the mother was doing well.
“When I got to the gate around 7 p.m., Air Canada staff, summoned to report for duty because it was outside their work hours, and medical personnel were waiting for us,” he said. “The lady was at the back of the plane for privacy and the care she needed, so I was able to keep the other passengers seated until medical staff assessed both mom and baby to ensure they were in good health before taking them off the plane.”
Before disembarking, Walker congratulated the mother who was travelling with two young children.
The Airbus A319, which seats 136 passengers, was two-thirds full.
The crew and passengers spent the night in Bermuda before flying to Toronto the next day without the newborn and her mother.
“We had to get a new medical kit and what had taken place on the flight was traumatizing for some crew members,” said the Western University Commercial Aviation Management graduate. “Our crew did a great job and the situation ended well.”
Leaving Jamaica with his family in 1988, Walker spent 12 years with the Canadian Armed Forces and, as a Combat Ready First Officer, flew throughout Canada and the United States and to several Caribbean, South American, African and European countries.
Retiring from the military in June 2017, Walker was with WestJet for nine months before joining Air Canada in March 2018.

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