After mom of two dies during flight, medical professionals urge European carriers to provide defibrillators on planes

Illustration: James Provost/Flickr

Davina Tavener, an active, healthy 47-year-old mother of two died during a Ryanair flight to Lanzarote, Spain, and both medical professionals and her grieving family hope her death will encourage all European carriers to add defibrillators to their planes. The European Aviation Safety Agency does not require planes to have the potentially life-saving devices onboard, and Tavener’s loved ones – and those who attempted to revive her after her in-flight collapse – will wonder whether a defibrillator could have saved her.

Tavener and her husband were three hours into the flight when she excused herself to use the restroom. When she didn’t return after 10 minutes, a member of the cabin crew checked on her. Tavener was discovered unconscious and unresponsive in the lavatory. Clare Garnsey, a breast surgeon who was on the flight, worked with the crew and other passengers to revive her, without success. During the inquest into Tavener’s death, Garnsey told the court:

I did ask for a defibrillator, because if it’s a cardiac issue that’s the best chance of survival, and it was quite a surprise this wasn’t there.

Coroner Alan Walsh, who also spoke at the inquest, said that no one knows how long Tavener could have been unconscious before being discovered, but he said that he would be writing the European Aviation Safety Agency, the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority and the Irish Aviation Authority to urge them to make defibrillators and other first aid equipment a requirement on all flights. Walsh said:

It takes a second to have a cardiac event and sadly cardiac events don’t choose whether they are 10 minutes into a flight or 10 hours into a flight. If you are, by the nature of air travel, trapped in aircraft without access to any other facility, the authorities need to consider the equipment to be carried on those airlines, whether it’s short haul or long haul.

A spokesperson for Ryanair said: 

Ryanair meets all regulatory requirements in terms of medical assistance provided on its flights and is not legally required to carry defibrillators on board. All our crews are trained in first aid and are responsible for the safety and security of the cabin […] We offer our sincere condolences to the bereaved.

The European Aviation Safety Agency currently makes a recommendation that defibrillators are available on planes with more than 30 seats that could, at any point on their trip, be more than 60 minutes from a facility that could “provide quality medical assistance.” But the agency’s regulations don’t go beyond a “recommendation.” In the United States, the FAA made defibrillators mandatory on all planes and in all airports in 2001, although the airlines had until 2004 to comply with those requirements.

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