Details emerge on woman who died during flight

The elderly woman who died on an Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Apia on Tuesday was a nun returning from a Christmas holiday in New Zealand. 

Sister Filomena Akenese Potogi of Sapapali’i, Savai’i died on flight NZ296, prior to the aircraft landing at the Faleolo International Airport.  

Sr. Filomena of the Sisters of Nazareth Community in Lepea was 67-years-old. She was ill with high blood pressure, diabetes and had a heart condition. 

Her younger sister, Sosefina Lafaele Utoaluga, said she is still grieving from the sudden death of her sister.  

“She went to New Zealand with my daughter to spend Christmas holiday with our family there,” Mrs. Utoaluga told the Weekend Observer. 

“Before they left New Zealand she was looking forward to see us because they have been away for more than a month. We waited at the airport for so long for them to come out, until we received a call that they wanted to speak to the family of Sr. Filomena. We were taken inside a room, where we were told that there was an incident on the plane, and she did not make it.”

According to Mrs. Utoaluga’s daughter, who was accompanying her aunty Sr. Filomena, it all happened so fast. 

Less than 10 minutes before the plane landed, Sr. Filomena felt uneasy. She asked to go to the restroom, with her niece accompanying her, despite a warning from the crew that the plane was about to land.  On their way back to their seat, Sr. Filomena fell on her knees and collapsed. 

Mrs. Utoaluga said her daughter – who was very close to her sister – is still trying to come to terms with the sudden death of Sr. Filomena. 

“My daughter was like Sr. Filomena’s own daughter,” she explained. 

“She took her everywhere and my daughter knows what medication her aunty should take, and what time she needs to take them.”

An email from Air New Zealand’s external communications manager, Anna Cross, said for privacy reasons the airline is unable to provide further information on the incident. 

Reminiscing on the personality of her sister, Mrs. Utualuga said Sr. Filomena was someone who got upset at times but is quick to love. 

She recalled how her sister loved her children like her own, and had always been there for them and raised them. 

“When she knows the kids have done wrong she would scold them and tell them off,” said Mrs. Utualuga. 

“But after that she would always baby them and buy them things they want. That was the kind of person she was. She loved my children like her own, and always came to visit us when she comes out and spend time with us.”

Sr. Filomena being older than her, Mrs. Utoaluga said they had a very close relationship. 

“Even though I’m younger than her she had not once said any harsh words to me or laid a hand to me when we were growing up,” she said. 

“She calls me when she wants to talk about something and I do the same when I need someone to talk to. When I needed her she was there for me…she always calls to check on the kids and how we are.”

Sr. Filomena’s family service will be held at the Sefo Funeral parlour today. Her final service is scheduled for next Tuesday at the Mulivai Cathedral. 

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