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All those Wonderful Stories

The Transocean Stork

By Arue Szura, Folded Wings: A History of Transocean Air Lines

The first of Transocean’s “labor pains” occurred during the summer of 1949 aboard a Transocean plane bound for New York from Germany filled with refugees, including 2 pregnant women. Both of the women's babies were due momentarily.

The flight from Munich became an ordeal for Captain Wally Kyse when both women went into labor en route to Prestwick, Scotland. Kyse took a 5-minute "correspondence course" in obstetrics by radio after sending a message to Prestwick: 2 babies about to be born on my plane. What do I do?


The Prestwick controllers were momentarily baffled. The ground officer joked to Kyse that he'd better see whether the plane's motors had any more speed in them. They then called Dr. John Stevenson, the airport physician, who reduced midwifery to 5 easy steps - at least for Kyse. Fortunately, Kyse didn't have to apply the lesson. The infants cooperated by making their "landing" at a nearby hospital an hour after the plane touched down.


Captain Kyse's troubles may have been over, but the British immigration authorities were then faced with 2 new travelers without passports, and their mothers had no documents permitting them to stay in Scotland. Their husbands, also among the 53 passengers, were in the same situation. Several high-level conferences were required before the problem was resolved by sending the husbands on to New York, to be followed later by mothers and babes. Thus, an international problem was solved.

Captain Galvin "Ace" Sargent picked up all the extra speed he could when he also discovered 3 women in labor on one of his flights from Bremen, Germany, to Idlewild Airport in New York.


The first announcement that one of the women was having labor pains came from the purser when the aircraft was one hour from Meeks Bay, Iceland. Meeks Field was notified of the emergency, and an ambulance was waiting at the gate when the plane landed to whisk the mother-to-be to the local hospital.


In the air again, midway between Meeks Bay and Gander, Newfoundland, the purser reported to Captain Sargent another passenger was now in labor. Not only was she in extreme pain, but the birth seemed imminent.  


Preparations were made in the crew compartment for the delivery. But once again, it was not needed as the aircraft touched down at Gander with minutes to spare.  Everybody sighed and relaxed as they anticipated an uneventful flight to New York. Nothing left to do now, thought Sargent, but fly the airplane.


Then, about an hour out of New York, the purser, who had aged considerably on this one transatlantic flight, reported to the captain that yet another woman was starting labor.


Believing that labor must be contagious, Sargent, who was by now thoroughly exasperated by this incredible string of blessed events, once more pushed the engines to the limit. For the third time, he managed to land moments before the baby arrived.

Captain Walt Lawton, however, didn't quite out-fly the stork. He lost the race by only a few minutes and a baby boy was born aboard the DC-4 that he and his crew were flying to Honolulu from Oakland (a twelve-hour flight) with a full load of tour group passengers. The two stewardesses were Alyce Martinez and Lori Mikosch, both of whom were single and in their early twenties.

   Just before the plane reached the point of no return, Alyce called Lori aside.
   "Lori, I think we've got a problem. There's a lady up front who's in labor."
   "What?" What did you say?" "She's going to have a baby!" "That's impossible, Alyce."
   "No it isn't, she's not feeling too good." "You've got to be kidding. I don't remember seeing anyone who was pregnant."
   "Well, she had on a full coat when she boarded so we didn't notice."


When Captain Lawton was notified of the emergency, he first determined that the woman wanted to proceed to Honolulu, instead of turning back to Oakland. He then radioed Honolulu for a doctor to give instructions. Meanwhile, the stewardesses put the woman in the crew bunk and made her as comfortable as possible. Messages from the doctor were so garbled that Lori finally gave up, deciding they could manage without him.


She then alerted the passengers to the medical situation and asked if a doctor or a nurse was on board. There was no response until an elderly gentleman stopped her as she passed by. He patted her arm reassuringly while telling her that everything would be all right.

   "Oh! Are you a doctor?" asked Lori. "No, I'm a minister."
   "Well, can you help us out?" "Oh, no, my dear!"
   "Well then pray. For God's sake, pray!"
   The passenger was moaning in pain when Lori returned to the crew compartment.
   "Now, Lori!" said Alyce, who had a weak stomach, "I'm the senior stewardess, right?"
   "Well, then, you take care of the bottom half and I'll take care of the top half."
   "But that's not fair!"
   "Everything will be okay! I'll just go get a compress for her head, and then I'll hold her hand."

The plane had just begun its approach to the Honolulu airport when a healthy boy was born. Lori slapped him on the back until he gave his first cry, then tied the umbilical cord with a piece of yarn taken from the argyle socks she'd been knitting and then wrapped him in a blanket. The passengers had been exceedingly patient despite the fact that they had not been served anything to eat or drink by the preoccupied stewardesses. Everyone was so delighted by the birth that a collection was taken for mother and baby after landing at Honolulu. Captain Lawton supplied the hat.

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