Fort Worth

‘She needed that plane to land.’ After daughter’s death, family takes airline to court

Brittany Oswell was 25 years old and returning from her honeymoon in Honolulu in 2016. She and her new husband, Cory Oswell, had spent several weeks in Hawaii, and now she was excited to go back home.

She called her mom before boarding the American Airlines flight to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, from which she would fly to South Carolina to see her family.

“She was in great spirits. She was excited,” Brittany’s mom, Tina Starks, said. “She was looking forward to landing in Columbia and starting her career here, finishing up and becoming an RN. Her ultimate goal was to become a nurse practitioner.”

Brittany never made it home.

During the flight from Hawaii to Texas, Brittany had a pulmonary embolism. A doctor on board asked the pilot to land the plane three times to get Brittany to a hospital, but the plane did not land, according to a lawsuit.

Brittany stopped breathing while on board and was taken to Baylor Medical Center as soon as the plane reached the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. She died three days later.

“She needed that plane to land so she could get care from an actual hospital, not on the flight,” Tina Starks said.

Brittany’s family is suing American Airlines over their daughter’s death, saying the flight should have been diverted and faulty medical equipment on board further hindered Brittany’s chance of survival. On March 27, the South Carolina case was transferred to a Fort Worth federal district court.

American Airlines declined to comment.

Brittany Oswell Provided by Brad Cranshaw

“This is a national case, so it doesn’t matter where the trial is because this concerns anyone that uses airlines, specifically American Airlines,” Tina Starks said.

Almost exactly three years after Brittany’s death, her parents said they continue to process what happened.

“You never get over this. You know how to manage your pain and that’s a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute process,” Tina Starks said. “You have to live in a reality that you don’t want to participate in.”

When asked how they felt about American Airlines’ response to them after Brittany’s death, her father, Chris Starks said, “What response?”

The parents said while American Airlines responded to the lawsuit, the company has not taken responsibility for its part in not diverting Brittany’s flight.

The parents said they hope their case changes aviation laws. Tina Starks said flight attendants received minimal medical training and the equipment the doctor tried to use on Brittany — a blood pressure cuff and defibrillator — did not work. They hope to see more medical training for crew and proper equipment.

“We really are looking forward to coming to Dallas and putting the facts in front of a jury to find out why — after a doctor who was on the plane asked that the plane land on three separate occasions — why the plane wasn’t diverted,” Brad Cranshaw, the Starkses’ lawyer, said.

The parents said since their daughter’s death, they started a nonprofit foundation and a scholarship foundation. Last year, they granted four scholarships for nursing students.

A court date has not been set.

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Kaley Johnson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. She majored in investigative reporting at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has a passion for bringing readers in-depth, complex stories that will impact their lives. Send your tips via email or Twitter.