Mystery surrounding death of ‘healthy’ Indiana mother, 41, on board American Airlines flight home from Dominican Republic

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Stefanie Smith, a mom-of-two from Pittsboro, became fatally ill just minutes into the flight on February 28
  • Her family says the hospital X-ray technician had no pre-existing conditions and they are baffled by her sudden death 
  • They are sending their own doctor to carry out an autopsy before her body is brought home to the US  

An Indiana doctor is flying to the Caribbean in a bid to find out why a happy and healthy mom-of-two died suddenly on a flight home from a dream vacation.

Stefanie Smith, 41, was returning from the Dominican Republic with her unknown boyfriend and another couple when she fell fatally ill just minutes into flight 2790 from Punta Cana to Charlotte, North Carolina.

The American Airlines plane was diverted to the Turks and Caicos islands where Smith was declared dead after being taken to hospital.

‘Everyone’s in shock, just waiting for news,’ said her brother Chris Volz, ‘there are still a lot of unknowns.’

The IUPUI graduate worked as an X-ray technician at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, and her sudden death has devastated friends and colleagues.

Stefanie Smith, 41, was just minutes into the American Airlines flight home from the Dominican Republic when she became fatally ill from an unknown cause on February 28 

A Gofundme appeal has raised $78,000 for her teenage children Coen and Macee

A Gofundme appeal has raised $78,000 for her teenage children Coen and Macee

Friend and colleague Kristina Swinney (left) said Smith 'wouldn't let anyone have a bad day'

Friend and colleague Kristina Swinney (left) said Smith ‘wouldn’t let anyone have a bad day’

‘I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt heartache like this,’ wrote friend Kristina Swinney on Facebook.

‘Looking to my left today, seeing you gone, knowing you aren’t coming back has left me a mess, Stef.

‘The news today has shattered us.’

A Gofundme appeal to raise money for her two teenage children Coen and Macee had raised $78,000 as of Wednesday morning, including contributions from passengers who were on her last fatal flight.

‘I didn’t know Stefanie but I was in the row in front of her,’ wrote Erika Remillard-Hagen.

‘When I was 41 my own two children were the same age hers are. My heart breaks for her family.’

‘Today we talked about how you wouldn’t let anyone have a bad day,’ wrote Swinney on Facebook, ‘you weren’t having any part of it.

‘I will miss the ‘Hi honey!’ morning greeting, you playing with my hair, hearing about the latest dateline story, our country karaoke, shots of Diet Coke and sticking my cold hands down your hot back,’ she added.

The two children, pictured in September last year, are now in the care of their father Eric

The two children, pictured in September last year, are now in the care of their father Eric 

'She gave her very best every day for you' Swinney told her children, 'know that your mom would want you to accomplish your goals and always strive to be better versions of yourself'

‘She gave her very best every day for you’ Swinney told her children, ‘know that your mom would want you to accomplish your goals and always strive to be better versions of yourself’

‘You were the energy of work.’

‘The docs that work in that room will be suffering big time,’ added colleague Linda Kulikowski.

‘She, single handedly, made them at ease enough to show their true personalities. I know they didn’t just look forward to working with her, but so loved the relationships she developed with each of them.

‘I truly hope she realized her impact.’

Coen and Macee are being looked after by their dad Eric as her family tries to reckon with their grief.

‘She gave her very best every day for you and worked her butt off to make sure to provide for you both,’ Swinney wrote.

‘This GoFundMe won’t ease your pain, but moving forward, know that your mom would want you to accomplish your goals and always strive to be better versions of yourself.’

Volz said that no-one in the family was aware of his sister having any pre-existing conditions before she flew down to the Caribbean on February 24.

He said he could not ‘believe it’s true’, after learning of her death from his parents on Wednesday night, saying that everything appeared to be in ‘slow motion’.

He told the Post that his sister regularly called him because she ‘always wanted to affirm her love’.

Members of Smith's family in the last photo she posted to Facebook

Members of Smith’s family in the last photo she posted to Facebook 

The airline said that the flight continued its journey to Charlotte the following day. 

The family is sending its own doctor to the Caribbean to conduct an autopsy before her body is brought back to Indianapolis for a celebration-of-life ceremony on Sunday.

‘The love she shared with Coen and Macee cannot be measured or described in words,’ fundraiser Kristi Spratt wrote on the appeal page.

‘Also, her endless love for her family, friends and community will leave a lasting impact on all who had the privilege of knowing her.

‘Stefanie will be so deeply missed by every single person who knew her, and we pray that the memory of her kind soul will live on forever.’

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

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