Current Affairs
“I know exactly how parents feel…I had to take my five-month-old son to the UK” – Air Malta engineer

A regular Air Malta flight to Heathrow yesterday landed at the London airport in the shortest time possible on the insistence and perseverance of the Captain Robin Zammit due a medical emergency.   On the plane there was a baby in an incubator being flown to the UK for an urgent operation.

TVM spoke with the captain as well as with the pediatrician on the case, and with an AirMalta engineer about the emergency flights which the national airline has to carry out from time to time in the absence of an air ambulance.

“Actually on the way to hospital from the airport, we had 15 minutes, 20 minutes when the baby was really unwell and actually that was the hardest moment yesterday. We thought that we had to make a decision… shall we continue or go back to hospital … but all of us we knew that if we had gone back to hospital the baby wouldn’t have survived. We didn’t give up and said let’s try to save this life, and we did it”, said pediatrician Dr Jelena Martic.

Dr Martic said that on Sunday she was one of the doctors who played a crucial role for this Maltese baby to be sent in the shortest time possible to Great Ormand Hospital in London for an urgent heart operation.

The Air Malta Captain responsible for the flight to London, Robin Zammit insisted with the air traffic controllers to allow him to land at Heathrow as quickly as possible because of the medical emergency.

“Heathrow is a very congested airport and from 400 miles away, while you are still over France, they start telling you to slow down, and we argued that this was an  ambulance flight. We kept going back on forth on this and they kept telling us no, but they obviously went to check. Anyone who has ever been to Heathrow knows that you have what is called  ‘holding’ for about 20 minutes before you can finally stop the plane to allow passengers to disembark. We told them about the situation and the same thing happened – first they were going to ask us to continue holding but but then they allowed us to come to a stop. We also saved a lot of time by landing on the runway which was being used for take-offs which they don’t let you do very often at Heathrow, in fact you are not supposed do it, but they let us do it. We landed at the runway closest to the terminal and saved around 15 if not 20 minutes,” said Captain Zammit.

In cases such as this, even the Engineering Department at Air Malta has to make arrangements for the special incubator to fit in the plane. The engineer responsible for this was  John Baptist Camilleri.

“We remove two seats from the plane, which means six passengers, and another three seats to be used for those accompanying the baby. We close off two rows of seats in order to place a partition, which was made by Air Malta staff. Many of these patients are usually  transported in special planes, but we do not have that luxury, however Air Malta has provided this service for the needs of every patient who has to be transported to an overseas hospital.”

In fact, Mr Camilleri pointed out with a heartbroken voice, that he knows exactly what the parents were going through yesterday.

“I know exactly how parents who travel with their children for treatment feel, because my son was five months old when he needed an operation in England. So I know just how they felt and that is why we do everything possible and give them all the support they need.”

In 2016, Air Malta had 15 cases of babies in incubators which were flown for medical treatment in the UK.