‘Healthy’ Indiana mom mysteriously dies on Dominican Republic flight

A couple’s trip to the Dominican Republic turned tragic for a 41-year-old Indiana mom, who died after a mysterious illness claimed her life on the flight home.

About halfway through the flight from Punta Cana to Charlotte, North Carolina, the seemingly healthy woman fell fatally ill, and efforts to revive her failed.

Keep reading to learn more about the heartbreaking death of the beautiful woman who “loved so big.”

On February 28, Indiana’s Stefanie Smith and her boyfriend Derek boarded an American Airlines flight to head home after sharing a dream vacation with another couple in Dominican Republic.

But the mother of two, who appeared to be healthy, would never make it back to the U.S.

According to a media release from the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force, about 6:12 p.m., Smith “fell ill mid-flight” and the plane made an emergency landing at Providenciales International Airport in Turks and Caicos.

Smith, who works as an x-ray technician, was taken to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.

“We made some lasting memories. Unfortunately, good times don’t always last. Our last day on the resort all [four] of us had breakfast, took one more group picture and departed ways to go home,” Maria Yannotti, who was travelling with Smith and Derek, wrote on her Facebook.

Yanotti explained that the two couples took different flights and she had not been with Smith when she suddenly fell ill. “As we were sitting at our layover in Miami, Clay [partner] received a phone call…it was Derek. He had told us that Stefanie had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in her seat on the plane. They had to make an emergency stop in [Turks] and Caicos and medical professionals did everything they could to revive Stefanie.”

She added: “Unfortunately, the outcome was not what we all were hoping for. We lost a DEAR DEAR friend that day and the world won’t ever be the same without her.”

Appeared healthy

Her unexpected death is shocking family and friends, who described the woman as very healthy and active.

Speaking to ABC News, Yannotti revealed that before the couples parted ways, there was no indication that Smith was feeling unwell. “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,” she remarked.

Smith’s brother, Chris Volz said he was not aware that his sister – mom to son Coen, 18, and daughter Macee, 16 – had any pre-existing health conditions.

“She was a special person…Her kids really…love her a lot, and I know she loved them,” said Volz of his sister, the only girl of five siblings.  “And so it’s tough.”

‘Shine bright gorgeous angel’

Meanwhile, in their collective grief, family and friends are looking for comfort by sharing their heartbreak on social media.

Her sister Christina French shares, “Her unexpected departure has left a void in our hearts that can never be filled. She lived life with an open heart, embracing each moment with overwhelming show [of] affection by way of hugs and kisses.”

Her mom, Robbie Richmond, a retired nurse, shared a photo of the two and wrote: “My beautiful baby girl.”

Shannon Burke shared a heartwarming tribute to her friend, writing: “You loved so big…You were always generous with your sweet kisses on the cheek. Giant hugs. Your ‘love ya babe’ ‘I miss your face’ texts. You were the glue to so many circles of friends!”

Burke’s post continued: “Your giant beautiful brilliant light will forever be my reminder to love big and cherish every single second while we have it. I miss your face already. Shine bright gorgeous angel.”

A GoFundMe, created to support Smith’s children in this tragic time, reads: “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.”

Passengers who were on the flight with Smith shared their generosity and support on the GoFundMe, which as of March 7 has raised more than $80,000 of its $85,000 goal.

“I didn’t know Stefanie but I was in the row in front of her on the flight. When I was 41 my own two children were the same age hers are. My heart breaks for her family,” wrote Erika Remillard-Hage.

A second passenger, Kristi Neitzke, wrote: “I was on the flight and am thinking about and praying for her children and all friends and family during this difficult time.”

Melanie McAuley Glab, also on the flight, shared that Smith looked happy when she boarded the flight. “I’m so very sorry for your loss! I had a chance to see your [Smith] and her husband/companion board and shared a laugh. Please know I share my deepest condolences and prayers with all of you during this very difficult unimaginable time.”

Smith’s cause of death is under investigation and the family sent its own doctor to the Caribbean to conduct an autopsy before her body is brought back to Indianapolis.

RIP Stefanie Smith. What do you think of this story? Please let us know and then share this story so we can keep her memory alive, while also spreading some love to her loved ones.


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