WCSU nursing student assists injured on turbulent flight

DANBURY, CONN. — On a recent turbulent flight from Houston to New York, Western Connecticut State University nursing student Olivia D’Avanzo put her skills to work when many of the 88 passengers were injured after being thrown about the cabin.

The 23-year-old New Fairfield resident said United Airlines Flight 1632 was delayed for three hours because of severe weather before departing on June 12 at 8:15 p.m.

“Right away the flight was very rocky and we hit some turbulence,” D’Avanzo said. “About a half an hour into the flight, we hit a huge air pocket. It felt like there was an explosion on the plane and it felt like it dropped 100 feet. We all flew up and hit our heads on the ceiling. The whole plane screamed. It was really scary.”

The nursing student said the entire cabin was in a panic as cell phones, books and drinks were launched into the air hitting passengers like missiles. When a flight attendant asked over the loudspeaker if there was a doctor on board, there was no response. D’Avanzo said she knew she had to take action.

“A paramedic from New York City and I got up, and I said ‘I’m a nursing student,’” said D’Avanzo, who was then directed toward the rear of the plane to help a seriously injured flight attendant.

“She was complaining of pain in her ribs, back and neck, and she couldn’t move her legs because of the pain,” she said. “I made sure her neck was immobilized and aligned and checked her vital signs. I put a pillow under her neck and got oxygen. She was having trouble breathing because of the injury to her ribs and couldn’t breathe in deep.”

D’Avanzo credits her courses at Western with preparing her for such a disaster. This past semester, she focused her studies on trauma, and she trained in the Waterbury Hospital intensive-care unit and emergency room. “You learn what to do in situations like this,” she said. “You have to take precautions and make sure people don’t cause themselves more injury.”

Flight 1632 eventually made an emergency landing in Louisiana, where it was met by an ambulance crew who treated more than a dozen injured passengers.

D’Avanzo said the experience made her confident in her nursing skills and in what she learned at Western, but added that it will be a long time before she steps foot on a plane again.


Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.

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