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Autopsy reveals why Indiana mom died suddenly on plane

Stefanie Smith died last month during a flight home from a vacation in the Dominic Republic.
Stefanie Smith and her two children
Posted at 12:06 PM, Mar 15, 2024

An Indiana mom who died on a plane home from the Dominican Republic passed away from natural causes.

Until now, mystery had surrounded the death of 41-year-old Stefanie Smith, who fell ill suddenly while on an American Airlines flight Feb. 28. Her family was left distraught and searching for answers.

But autopsy results now reveal that the mother of two died from a carotid artery dissection in her neck, according to Scripps News Indianapolis. Essentially, she died from a tear to one of her neck arteries, according to the National Library of Medicine.

"It was truly a tragic medical event that happened," Smith's brother Chris Volz told Scripps News Indianapolis. The results did not suggest any signs of foul play.

Smith had spent five days vacationing in Punta Cana with her boyfriend and another couple. Her friend Maria Yannotti, who was on the trip with her, told ABC that Smith appeared healthy and went for a run each morning before breakfast at the resort.

She also told Fox News Digital that the two had consumed the same meals on the trip.

"Everything she had, I had," Yannotti told Fox. "We ate about the same meals. We drank about the same drinks. You know, it wasn't like [any]body was belligerent. [W]e just had our nice drinks by the pool and by the beach. I mean, most of the time, we watched them open the bottles right in front of us. We were having a great time. We played beach volleyball. We swam."

Volz said his sister appeared healthy up until the plane ride home.

On a connecting flight through North Carolina, Smith began convulsing shortly after takeoff, Yannotti said. The flight was diverted to Turks and Caicos.

"Her boyfriend had told us that they were getting ready to … get altitude, or they hadn't been in the air very long. But he said that he looked over at her, and her head was tilted back in her seat. Her eyes were rolled in the back of her head, and he thought she was just making fun of them. They normally joke around … like that," she told Fox.

"And he said, 'Next thing you know, she was convulsing,'" Yannotti added.

Flight attendants began performing CPR, but were unsuccessful. 

Once on the ground, Smith was transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead, reports say. Her body is expected back in the U.S. next week.

Smith leaves behind her 18-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, according to ABC.

"She was a special person. Her kids loved her a lot. I know she loved them, so it's tough," Volz said.