Baby Born On Southwest Flight Forced To Divert To DIA

Flight Continues On To Salt Lake After Diversion

A flight heading from Chicago to Salt Lake City was diverted to Denver Friday morning after a baby boy was born mid-flight.

Southwest Airlines Flight 441 was at about 30,000 feet, and 100 miles north of Denver, when the pilot asked if anyone had medical training. A woman had gone into labor and the captain made a call to divert to Denver -- the closest airport, said Paul Flaningan, a Southwest spokesman.

But before the plane could make an emergency landing, the woman gave birth in flight.

Flight attendants had thrown down a blanket in the back of the Boeing 737 and a doctor and two nurses who were on the flight delivered the baby boy with the help of Stat Med, an in-flight medical radio service Southwest contracts with to help flight attendants with medical emergencies.

"When I first saw the head coming out I said, 'Great, at least it's not the back end.' That would've been a problem. But fortunately, a nice, beautiful baby, normal delivery," said Dr. John Saran. "Mom was great, the staff was great ... (The mom) was actually in the seat right in front of me and I didn't know until we found out she was in labor. She had a few pains, but she was really good, she was a trooper. The baby came out very quickly and easily and, fortunately, it was a very normal delivery."

He said he used a child's scissors to cut the umbilical cord and his shoestrings to tie it off.

"One of the passengers had one of these children's play scissors, ones with the blunt tips, that are no problem on the airlines. Otherwise, I was thinking maybe I'm gonna have to look for one of those plastic knives that people carry when they're eating," Saran said. "I used my shoestring, we looked around for strings, I pulled the shoestring out of my shoe so that baby is walking around with one of my shoestrings around his umbilical cord."

"Finally you heard a group of like five people clapping and that's when it kind of clicked with me and I thought, 'Maybe somebody's having a baby,'" said passenger Katherine Williams.

"We now have a new passenger," a flight attendant said on the jet's public address system after the quick delivery.

The flight crew and passengers said the entire labor and delivery happened within minutes.

"We don't deliver babies everyday but we did today. It was very exciting," said one Southwest flight attendant. "It really happened quickly. There wasn't a whole lot of time to let that set in ... That baby was being delivered within 5 minutes of having her in the back."

"(When she was in labor) I summoned, I told her husband to call the medical people but he was reluctant. Anyway, I hit the button, called the (flight attendants) for him and she came up there and within 15 minutes ... Wow! We had a new baby boy," said passenger Weldon Robinson.

The baby was born at 9:55 a.m. MST and the plane landed at Denver International Airport at about 10:21 a.m. The mother and her newborn were taken off the plane by paramedics and transported to Medical Center of Aurora, South Campus, by ambulance.

A spokeswoman with the Medical Center of Aurora said that the mother and baby were doing fine and were still at the hospital on Saturday afternoon.

The father and the couple's other kids, who were all on the flight, also got off the plane in Denver.

"Mom and baby are doing fine," Flaningan said.

"It sounded like everything went pretty regular -- nothing out of the ordinary," said Denver Fire Division Chief Charles McMillan.

This graphic shows the actual flight path of Southwest Flight 441, as tracked by radar, courtesy FlightAware.com. The dashed line indicates the intended flight path to Salt Lake City.

"The baby was delivered in flight, so we drove to the hospital," said Denver Health spokeswoman Dee Martinez, referring to the paramedics' role in getting the mom and baby to the hospital. "It's really the people on flight who did everything."

The flight continued on to Salt Lake City.

Flaningan said in-flight births don't happen very often.

"We might have passengers who are further along and have contractions. It's fairly rare to have a baby born in mid-air," Flaningan said.

According to ABCNEWS, it is far more likely that somebody will die on a flight than give birth -- 26 times as likely. A study of 10,189 medical emergencies aboard European flights between 2002 and 2007 by German researchers found only two births but 52 deaths.

Southwest Airlines does not have specific restrictions on pregnant passengers.

"While air travel does not usually cause problems during pregnancy unless delivery is expected within 14 days or less, in some cases, traveling by air has been known to cause complications or premature labor. Female customers at any stage of pregnancy should consult with their physicians prior to air travel," Southwest said on its Web site. "Southwest Airlines strongly recommends against air travel after the 38th week of pregnancy. Depending on their physical condition, strength, and agility, pregnant women may, in some cases, be asked not to sit in an emergency exit seat."

"It's a decision that the mom and doctor makes. And if the doctor recommends that a woman not travel, we follow those guidelines," Flaningan said.

Some airlines restrict travel for pregnant women who are 36 weeks along or require a doctor's note before allowing pregnant passengers to board, but it's not known how strictly those policies are enforced.

Saran said he heard the baby was due in January, and estimated the newborn was about five pounds.

Flight 441 originated in Columbus, Ohio with stops scheduled at Midway Airport in Chicago, Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho before ending at Spokane, Wash.

The family's identity and their hometown have not been released. Passengers on the flight told a 7NEWS' affiliate in Salt Lake City that the couple was from North Carolina.

Saran is from Chicago but was headed to Park City, Utah for a ski vacation.

Unfortunately, the infant's birth certificate won't reflect his unique place of birth. In this type of situation, the "air-borne" baby is usually given a birth certificate in the state where the plane lands.

The name of the baby boy is not known. Perhaps Sky? Jet? or Denver?

"We're going to call the TSA on this guy," Flaningan said, laughing, when asked about the unscreened passenger.

Additional Information: