Nursing alum’s courage tested
during emergency airplane landing © Aug. 6, 2010, Norwich University Office of Communications

Lt. Nicole Palardy, a Class of 2009 nursing major, stands next to the administration building on Norwich's Northfield, Vt., campus.

photo courtesy of Nicole PalardyLt. Nicole Palardy, a Class of 2009 nursing major, stands next to the administration building on Norwich’s Northfield, Vt., campus.

The combination of nursing and military training from Norwich University helped a recent alum keep her head—and probably save an infant’s life—during a short but terrifying airplane ride.

Lt. Nicole Palardy, a 2009 graduate of Norwich’s nursing program, said she was able to remain focused on the treatment of a child reacting to extreme heat during the emergency landing of U.S. Airways’ flight 1106 on July 23, 2010. Pilots were forced to halt the flight, bound for Philadelphia, and return to the Charlotte, N.C., airport when the air conditioning system failed. The plane was in the air for about 10 minutes, according to a source at the airline.

“I’ll remember it for the rest of my life,” said Palardy, now active as a nurse at an in-patient cardio unit at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

Heading to her home town of Alburgh, Vt., to attend a funeral service, Palardy, 24, was already part of an unhappy crowd of more than 180 travelers whose flight had been delayed for hours after boarding. Passengers were advised to shut their windows and turn up the air blowers, she said. But when the plane finally took off, it was clear the measures weren’t working. Temperatures in the back of the plane quickly rose to an estimated 115 degrees and began creeping toward the front where the air system was reportedly still functioning. Flight attendants passed out “lukewarm” water to try to placate the suffering passengers.

I was on my knees and I was being knocked around, and you could hear the plane shudder.

~ Nicole Palardy,
Class of 2009

“The heat wasn’t resolving at all,” she said.

The situation turned into an emergency quickly. After a man in the back of the plane became ill, Palardy recalls hearing a muffled announcement that they were turning back, and the plane went into a hard bank. Moments later, amid “awful” turbulence, a woman toward the back rose and said her toddler needed help.

“As soon as I saw it, I stripped off his clothes,” said Palardy, who identified herself as a nurse and began questioning the woman on the unconscious boy’s medical history. “This is standard procedure for someone with heat stroke.”

Informed that the child may be susceptible to asthma and febrile seizures, which are convulsions brought on by fever in infants, she labored to resuscitate the child, icing major arteries to lower the temperature and monitoring his weak pulse and respiration. At the same time, she attempted to direct two other passengers with emergency medical experience to the most serious emergencies on board, and obtain supplies from the crew. Passengers and flight attendants panicked and baggage and equipment crashed about.

“I was on my knees and I was being knocked around, and you could hear the plane shudder,” said Palardy, describing it as an eerie, terrifying sound. “It was just panic and chaos as the plane landed.”

She never learned the name of the child, who was whisked away in an ambulance along with one of the flight attendants and two others after the airplane came to a halt. At that point, she said, the child’s vital signs had begun to recover, and Palardy is certain her actions were key factors in stabilizing his condition.

Palardy admitted she was close to panicking herself, but was able to draw on the leadership skills and discipline she learned from military training at Norwich. As a nursing student, she attended ROTC classes as part of her commitment to join the Air Force upon graduation. Despite this, Palardy led a civilian lifestyle at Norwich, where more than half of students join the military-style Corps of Cadets—part of the college’s 191-year heritage.

Discipline allowed Palardy to focus and retrieve the nursing procedures she needed, and was the direct result of a rigorous and challenging college experience, she said.

“It says a lot about people who go through that for four years,” said Palardy. “It’s definitely a test of character.”

Sheri Mayo, a nurse practitioner who taught Palardy in a pediatric nursing course at Norwich, believes the former student had to quickly pull together many skills from different parts of her training, including recognition of the emergency, engagement with the family, scene management, proper treatment and keeping her cool. She did the department proud, said Mayo.

“She did all we could ask of her as a nurse,” she said. “She did a great, great job.”

Michelle Mohr, a spokesperson for U.S. Airways, said Palardy’s description of the situation as “chaotic” was probably accurate, as flight attendants had rushed to secure snack carts and passengers aboard the crowded Boeing 767 jet during the abrupt emergency landing procedure. One was injured in the process.

“We’re glad that she was on board and able to help out one of our young passengers,” said Mohr.

The incident happened at the same time Palardy had expected to attend the wake of her grandfather, who died three days earlier. It’s a coincidence she finds poignant and oddly appropriate.

“I think he would have been proud of me,” said Palardy. “I think I was where I was supposed to be.”