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In-Flight Pediatric Fatalities

Lilibeth Ramirez2 years ago

A study was conducted in order to investigate pediatric fatalities on commercial airlines that occurred during the course of flights.

About the Pediatric Aviation Fatalities

According to Medscape, a recent study was conducted to investigate possible factors in the sudden increase of infant deaths aboard flights. News reports featured headlines stating, “90% of pediatric airline deaths occurred in children under age 2,” causing multiple parents to worry about the safety of their family. The article also recommended that before parents take their children on flight they reconsider the possible risks; however, the news presented the study without proper context in a way that drastically altered the meaning of the statistic.

The original study included medical emergency data representing 74 airlines from January 2010 to June 2013 representing roughly 3.78 billion passengers. Within the period of study, there were 81,104 (0.002%) flight emergencies requiring a medical consultation. Only 9.3% or 7,573 were identified as pediatric emergences, and of those 7,573 only 10 involved the death of a child leaving.

Thus, when the media presented the data, they failed to give the public adequate information about the statistic. There were 10 deaths aboard the flights, where only one child was past the age of 2, maintaining that 90% of pediatric deaths were in children under 2. However, 4 of the children who died had preexisting medical issues, 2 were traveling for the purpose of accessing advanced medical care which leaves 4 kids where cause of death was unknown because of inability to acquire autopsy data. Therefore, only 4 children who had no pre-existing medical problems died out of 3.78 billion passengers that flew to which Medscape states is a fewer number than fatalities in kids traveling by car.

Additional Study Inormation

The median duration of the flights was 7 hours, most of which occurred in large, twin-aisle aircrafts normally used in long-distance flights. While aircraft cabin pressure during the course of a flight is equivalent to an altitude of 6,000-8,000 feet above sea level, the data remained inconclusive because postmortem examination information was not released.

The 4 children were found to be apneic, pulseless, and unresponsive while sleeping, a situation referred to as sudden unexpected infant death. Another possible factor was whether children were in a separate infant seat or on a lap during the flight. However, the team who performed the study concluded that despite speculation, there is no definitive data to indicate the deaths would not have occurred if the children had been in an infant seat or not but concluded the under-2 age group is a “vulnerable population” however there could be external unrecognized factors that caused the fatalities. 

Information about Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided the following data:

  • Sudden unexpected infant deaths are defined as deaths in infants that occur suddenly and unexpectedly, and whose cause of death is not immediately obvious before investigation.
  • Each year in the United States, about 4,000 infants die suddenly of no immediately, obvious cause.
  • SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants aged 1–12 months, and is the third leading cause overall of infant mortality in the United States.


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