Family of midwife who died suddenly on flight had been ‘so excited’ about UK return, say neighbours
Children were ‘sat next to the body of their mother for eight hours’ after she died suddenly on a flight as the family returned home to the UK to begin a ‘new chapter’ after living in Hong Kong for 15 years.
Helen Rhodes, a ‘devoted’ mother, died as she was travelling home to the UK with her husband Simon and their son and daughter on August 5 after living in Tung Chung, Hong Kong.
A few hours into the flight, Mrs Rhodes – a midwife – was found unresponsive and could not be resuscitated. It is believed she passed away in her sleep.
Her body then remained in her seat for eight hours next to her devastated children, before the flight landed in Frankfurt.
Mrs Rhodes’ body remains in Germany and is yet to be repatriated. Her husband and two children, Nathan and Emma, had to continue onto the UK without her.
John Moore, neighbour for ‘many years’ to Helen, 46, and her husband Simon, 49, today told how her tearful mother said her daughter died of a ‘suspected heart attack’.
The 87-year-old said: ‘It’s a terrible tragedy. She died on the plane coming over. She sort of collapsed. They think she suffered a heart attack. Her mother came round this morning and told me about it. She was in tears and my wife was in tears.
‘I just can’t understand it. She was so fit and healthy and she worked in the medical profession. They have had this house for many years. They moved to Hong Kong about 15 years ago. They didn’t rent it out. They kept it.
‘They were going to have the house done up and were looking forward to coming back home and beginning a new life. I had the keys and used to collect the mail and give it to her mum. We were all looking forward to them coming back and seeing the children.
‘We knew they were coming back for good. They were so excited about it. They were supposed to be back on Friday but then this happened.
Helen Rhodes (right) was travelling home to the UK on August 5 with her husband Simon (left) and their two children Nathan and Emma after living in Tung Chung, Hong Kong, for more than 15 years
‘The children are with their grandparents. It must be a terrible thing for them with what they have been through. It doesn’t bear thinking about.’
Another neighbour, who also knew the family for many years, added: ‘It’s really, really sad. We’ve been here for 35 years and they came after us. They were really nice. I was really sad to hear about it today.
‘She was only in her mid 40’s and the kids are in their early teens. They used to come back every summer and would spend the summer here and then go back again.
‘I haven’t seen Simon. Her side of the family live nearby and they are taking care of each other there. They had been out there for 15 years. I would speak to them when they came back and they would say they were having a great life there.
‘They had a wonderful life. She was such a lovely person. She would talk so positively about her profession in such a positive manner. Her children really enjoyed it over there. They were fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin.
‘They were a really happy couple, always so positive. It is a great shame they have to go through this now.
‘They had a great time there but were looking forward to coming back. They hadn’t been here for three years because of Covid and they were looking forward to seeing her parents again after such a long time.
‘They were going to come back and do up the house and now this has happened. I just don’t know what they will do.
‘We were looking forward to having them back. Now, instead I have popped over there with a condolences card.’
Mrs Rhodes’ elderly parents were too upset to talk about the tragedy.
A tearful woman answered the door at the home of Edward Yerby, 84, and wife Margaret, 80, in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
She said: ‘They’re not in a state to say anything I’m afraid.’
A GoFundMe appeal has been set up by family friend Jayne Jeje to help the family ‘honour our dear friend Helen’ and to help with unexpected repatriation and funeral expenses. So far it has raised more than £10,000 of a £20,000 target and friends and wellwishers have flooded the site with touching tributes.
Ms Jeje described how the family were ready to ’embark on a new chapter’ and Mrs Rhodes was ‘looking forward’ to seeing her aging parents whom she hadn’t seen since the start of the pandemic.
She wrote: ‘Helen and her family wrapped up a life in Hong Kong of over 15 years to embark on a new chapter living back home in the UK.
‘Helen was excited and nervous about the move, but looked forward to seeing her family back home, as she had not seen her family or aging parents since the pandemic began. Sadly, she never got to see them again.’
She continued: ‘We are still in disbelief and shock about the sudden passing of our dearest friend Helen Rhodes, whose life has touched many people in Hong Kong and the UK.
‘Helen was one of a kind, a gem. She was a midwife by profession, and was always willing to lend a helping hand or advice to anyone who needed it.
‘Helen loved to talk and made friends easily. She was the pulse of her community in Tung Chung, in Hong Kong.
‘She couldn’t walk a few feet and not run into someone she knew by name. She was an early member of a tight knit diverse group, called Tung Chung Mums.
‘Over 200 women who first looked to her if they had a question concerning anything medical related.
‘Helen always made herself available to help others. She was clever, witty and generous with her time.’
A midwife by profession, the ‘one of a kind’ mother ‘lay in a breathless sleep’ in her seat for the remaining eight hours of the flight until the plane landed in Frankfurt. Pictured: Hong Kong
She added: ‘Helen was sharp and creative. She ran her own business making amazing bespoke bows and accessories. Helen took pride in everything she did, and her bows were exquisite.
‘This fundraiser is to honor this lovely woman who was loved by so many, a dear friend who touched so many people.
‘We can only hope she knew how much she meant to us and how her void can never be filled.
‘How this loss is so painful and surreal. The grief we feel is paralyzing. Yet, we feel lucky to have known her.’
Describing what happened, Ms Jeje said: ‘On August 5, 2022. Helen passed away in her sleep on her flight from HK to UK. Helen was found unresponsive a few hours into the flight.
‘Despite all efforts, Helen was not able to be resuscitated. This all unfolded in front of her children. For the remaining 8 hours of the flight, Helen lay in a breathless sleep in her seat.
‘Although this was extremely traumatizing to the family, they all had time to say what they needed to say to her.
A GoFundMe page has been set up by Jayne Jeje to help the family with unexpected expenses and to ‘honour our dear friend Helen’. It has so far raised more than £10,000
‘Needless to mention, they are devastated. This loss is unimaginable. Helen was a devoted wife and mother. She was the glue that held her family together.
‘After landing in Germany and the protocol that followed, Helen remained in Frankfurt while her husband (Simon) and two young children (Nathan and Emma) had to go on to the UK without her.’
Andrew Spires, admin of Tung Chung Tower Communities’ Facebook page, paid tribute to Mrs Rhodes.
He said: ‘Sadly Tung Chung’s very own Helen Rhodes passed away on a flight back to the UK. She was with her husband Simon, and two kids.
‘I knew Helen only on a ‘school gates’ level but she was the most caring, generous and thoughtful person; also the most chatty! Tung Chung and school pick-up won’t be the same without you.
‘Wishing all the best to her family going forward – I hope they eventually find some peace.
‘Live life to the fullest folks, and hugs the ones you love.’