AN ELDERLY woman who stopped breathing for about five minutes on a transtasman flight was just seconds from death when an Auckland doctor revived her.
After furiously working on Mary Melrose, Dr Tane Taylor told others crowded around her that he thought she was dead.
But as Dr Taylor said "she's gone", Mrs Melrose started gasping for air.
Mrs Melrose, 70, was flying to Auckland on an Air New Zealand flight from Brisbane with her husband John when the drama unfolded.
Before the flight, Mrs Melrose spent six hours in hospital with stomach pains. Scans failed to reveal any problem and Mrs Melrose was given medicine and told she could fly home from a three-week holiday at Noosa.
But 20 minutes into the flight, she began to feel "extremely uncomfortable" and was moved into business class where she could lie flat.
"I went into respiratory arrest and then cardiac arrest," Mrs Melrose, of Bucklands Beach, told the Herald.
A call was made on the aircraft for a doctor and Dr Taylor and two nurses rushed to her aid.
"When I got there, Mary was gasping for air," the Manukau GP said. "I started asking her husband about her health ... and then she just collapsed on me."
Using onboard equipment, the father-of-three performed CPR on Mrs Melrose for several minutes, fitted her with an oxygen mask and inserted a drip to administer drugs.
"I told her husband she might not make it, that she was very poorly - but we gave it a go. After a while I looked up at the nurses and said 'She's gone', but then she started gurgling," said Dr Taylor.
Fearing Mrs Melrose would not survive the journey to Auckland, Dr Taylor asked for the plane to return to Brisbane.
"There was great professionalism by Air New Zealand staff. They knew their stuff ... When the call came to turn around, they just said 'What you say goes' and made it happen."
Mrs Melrose cannot remember much of her ordeal. "My husband fainted when he saw me turn so blue - he thought I was gone.
"I woke up a bit and just remember looking at all those faces. Dr Taylor was saying 'Your life is at risk, we have to turn this plane around'."
Back in Brisbane, Mrs Melrose was rushed by ambulance to the nearest hospital where she spent five days in intensive care and another recovering in a ward before she was cleared to come home.
"It turned out there was a blockage somewhere in my gut and as a result of the gas build-up, everything swelled up as we left the ground," she said. "My stomach was slammed up into my diaphragm and everything was squashed. I couldn't breathe."
"We took him a bunch of flowers and some chocolate. He said I was definitely a goner - I was brought back from the dead. He was so pleased he had brought me back," Mrs Melrose said, describing her resuscitation as miraculous.
Five years ago she was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer, but after lengthy chemotherapy she is now in remission.
"So the effort that was required [to resuscitate] was a lot. I am extremely lucky. God and his angels were definitely looking after me on that flight."
Dr Taylor was thrilled Mrs Melrose turned up to see him on Sunday.
"She looked a million dollars - that's what I do this work for," he said. "I was flying all day, it was so lovely."
An Air NZ spokesperson said it did not want to discuss personal matters relating to passengers but that "Air NZ crew receive extensive training in dealing with a variety of situations onboard the aircraft and on the ground".