This was definitely not what Dr. Sij Hemal expected when he booked a flight with Air France from India to the United States.
Hemal was tired. The second-year urology resident of the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic had spent the entire day traveling. He started in New Delhi, stopped in Paris and now headed to New York, where he would take a connecting flight to Cleveland, his final destination.
I needed a nap. The 27-year-old had planned to watch the movie "Side Effects", enjoy a glass of champagne and fall asleep.
But before I could drink that drink, everything changed. A stewardess was looking for doctors on board. So Hemal got up from his seat and went to offer him all the help he could.
It was then that he discovered that Toyin Ogundipe, 41, had started work when the plane skirted the south coast of Greenland, 35,000 feet below. "She complained of back pain," Hemal told CNN. "At first, I thought it might be kidney stones, but after she told me she was pregnant, I knew she was about to give birth."
Over the course of an hour, Ogundipe's contractions accelerated.
"Once they reached two minutes apart, that's when we found out that we were going to deliver the plane," Hemal said.
the emergency landing would have required a two-hour detour to a US military base in the Azores Islands. Instead, the crew moved Ogundipe to first class, which had fewer passengers and more space. They continued on to the JFK International Airport, four hours away.
While Hemal practices urology, this was not his first delivery. Thanks to her training at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, Hemal had given birth to seven babies, just not on the floor of a jet.
"I was relaxed because I knew I was in good hands," Ogundipe said in a statement. "They did everything a doctor or midwife would have done if they were in the delivery room at the hospital, better still, if you ask me."
After half an hour, Ogundipe gave birth to a boy named Jake. And Hemal was relieved.
When they finally landed, Ogundipe and Jake were quickly sent to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, four miles from the airport, and were released later that day.
"Honestly, it was something of God," Hemal said of the delivery in mid-December. "A lot of things could have gone wrong, but we did our best with what we had."
Hemal still had one last hurdle in front of him: getting on his connecting flight on time.
With the help of airport officials, he managed to pass immigration and arrived at his door on time. It was an uneventful flight to Cleveland.
"I'm glad nothing happened after that," Hemal said.
Air France even compensated for that lost glass of champagne: the airline provided Hemal with a full bottle, along with a travel receipt as a thank-you for their medical services.