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Indiana mother appeared fit and healthy before suddenly dying aboard AA flight, family and friends say

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An Indiana mother who suddenly fell and died aboard a flight home from the Dominican Republic last week had no pre-existing conditions, kept herself in good shape and even trained while on vacation in the Caribbean nation, her family and friends told ABC News.

Stefanie Smith, 41, was on American Airlines Flight 2790 from Punta Cana to Charlotte, North Carolina, on Feb. 28 when her health took a sudden turn, police said. 

She was given CPR on the plane and then the aircraft was diverted to the Turks and Caicos Islands, where she was taken to a local hospital but could not be saved.

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Her cause of death has yet to be determined and those close to her say they are shocked by her unexplained death.

Smith’s boyfriend was sitting next to her on the flight and said her eyes rolled back and she started convulsing, her friend Maria Yannotti, told ABC. Yannotti was also on the trip and traveled separately.

Yannotti said Smith’s boyfriend initially thought she was joking around but soon realized she was in distress.

Then a doctor and nurses on board the plane helped administer CPR before the plane made an emergency landing in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory located in the southeast of the Bahamas.

Smith was vacationing with her boyfriend for five days and seemed healthy right before the flight, Yannotti said. 

An American Airlines airplane appearing to take off from an unnamed airport

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“She loves going to the gym every day, even while we were in the Dominican. She made it a point to get up every morning to go to the gym and run on the beach.”

Her brother, Chris Volz, told ABC he was not aware of his sister having any pre-existing health conditions.

Smith was the mother of two children, an 18-year-old son named Coen and 16-year-old daughter, Macee.

“She was a special person… Her kids really… love her a lot, and I know she loved them,” Volz said. “And so it’s tough.”

A GoFundMe created for Smith’s children expressed the devotion Smith had for them.

“The love she shared with Coen and Macee cannot be measured or described in words.”

“Also, her endless love for her family, friends, and community will leave a lasting impact on all who had the privilege of knowing her.”

A Google Maps image pinpointing Turks and Caicos Islands

A woman who said she was Smith’s sister-in-law, also remembered her fondly.

“We are in disbelief and our hearts are broken,” wrote Stephanie Quinn last week in response to a police statement about the incident.

Quinn described her sister-in-law as the only girl out of five siblings and the mother of two “beautiful children with big hearts and straight As.”

Unexpected or, “excess,” deaths, claimed 158,000 more Americans in the first nine months of 2023 than in the same period in 2019, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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