A distressed passenger sat with her boyfriend’s body for more than nine hours after watching him choke during the Jetstar flight from Singapore to Auckland.
Vanessa Preechakul, a 27-year-old architect, was making the 11-hour journey with Robert Rippingale back to his native New Zealand for a family reunion.
At first Ms Preechakul thought nothing was wrong as Mr Rippingale tucked into his beef dish while watching a movie 90 minutes into the flight.
Then she noticed him shaking.
“I thought he was laughing very hard.”
“Then I looked at his face and his eyes were rolling and he couldn’t talk,” Ms Preechakul said.
“His lips were turning purple.”
“One minute we were sitting next to each other kissing, holding hands and the next minute he was choking.”
Ms Preechakul told the New Zealand Herald that a doctor and two nurses on board rushed to help after hearing her scream.
They performed CPR on him in the galley but were unable to save him.
“The doctor came to me and said he was so sorry. He did his best,” she said.
The body was moved to the crew rest area behind a curtain and Ms Preechakul asked to sit next to her deceased boyfriend.
Crew members covered his body with a blanket.
“I had to cope. I had no choice,” Ms Preechakul said.
She said she was struggling to come to terms with the death of her “outgoing and generous” partner.
The airline, Jetstar, a budget offshoot of Australian carrier Qantas, contacted passengers who were sitting near Mr Rippingale to thank them for their patience during an “upsetting situation for them”.
“They were offered a discount on future travel as a small acknowledgement of this,” a Jetstar spokesman said.
The couple were on their way to join Mr Rippingale’s family in Auckland to celebrate his parents’ combined 50th birthday party.
Instead of a having a celebration, the family buried their eldest son at the weekend.
David Rippingale, the dead man’s father, said his son was born with a hole in his heart for which he was operated on at the age of six.
“The police told us he choked on the food on his flight, but he had a heart problem so we think it might have been that.
“We’re just waiting for the answers now.”
Some passengers criticised Jetstar for not turning the aircraft around and returning to Singapore.
But an airline source said the crew continued with the flight to Auckland at Ms Preechakul’s request.