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Hank Investigates

Sick in the Sky

What happens if you have a medical emergency on board a commercial flight? Or become ill at 30,000 feet? Are airlines always prepared to help you? And is anyone reviewing how flight crews perform when someone becomes sick in the sky? Hank Investigates.

They were midair, three hours out of Boston,when the emergency call went out: Is a doctor on board? Dr. Melissa Mattison pushed her call button...and that's when things got scary.

Dr. Melissa Mattison, Harvard Medical School

"it was a nerve wracking experience for everyone."

A passenger was having a seizure--not breathing. Dr. Mattison called for the planes emergency medical kit. But she says, the supplies that were supposed to be there--were not.

Dr. Melissa Mattison, Harvard Medical School

We were rifling through the kit! It was not labeled, it was not marked!

As the plane landed, Dr. Mattison saved her patient...but how often does a bad medical kit cause complications in the air?

Dr. Melissa Mattison, Harvard Medical School

How many life or death situations have there been? We don't know!

Our investigation found the Federal Aviation Administration does require commercial airlines carry emergency medical kits--with certain supplies included. Flight attendants must check that the kit's packed and in place-but what if it's not? That's not public information. And if there's a non-fatal medical emergency? That's not public either.

They don't have to report that to any government agencies-and experts say-that's a problem.

Jeffrey Sventek, AeroSpace Medical Association

"With the data available to us, we could make professional decisions that could result in improvements in available medications and medical equipment on board airliners."

And look, we obtained these anonymous reports flight crews sent to a confidential government database--they reveal flights where the kit was incomplete--not inspected--A flight attendant says when a nurse asked her for medical supplies--quote "I had no earthly idea what she was talking about.'

Of course an airplane isnt a flying emergency room-no one expects that. An Industry spokesmen told us: Major commercial airlines do have on-call medical experts, and:

Airlines For America:

"Airlines adhere to FAA regulation that determines what a medical kit should contain. Whenever there is an inflight medical emergency, each airline has its own reporting system."

But those who have handled such incidents say-what happens at 30,000 feet--should not be such a secret.

Jeffrey Sventek, AeroSpace Medical Association

"What's at stake is the health, safety and lives of the passengers and airline crew."

If you're flying with a medical condition, experts say make sure you bring your medication--with clear instructions-and notify the flight attendant.