TSA Officer saves life of choking co-worker

Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Officers White and Hendley photo

Choking is probably the furthest thing from your mind when you sit down to eat, but a group of Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) screeners learned firsthand that quick action can save a life.

Officer White photo
Palm Beach International officer Bonita White. (Photo by Albert Eyde)

Gathering to enjoy an informal potluck lunch, PBI baggage screeners were enjoying food and fellowship this past holiday season when TSA officer Bonita White suddenly jumped up and hurried over to a trash can. White began a distressed cough, as though she had swallowed something and it went down the wrong way.

TSA officer Harry Hendley noticed that White continued to cough without much relief and offered his assistance. He could see that she was having difficulty breathing.

Officer Hendley photo
Palm Beach International officer Harry Hendley. (Photo by Albert Eyde)

“As it was happening I remember thinking about a story that a co-worker had recently shared with me where she had also gone through a similar experience,” White recalled. “I remember asking myself if this is where I was going to die?” 

“I asked Bonita if she was okay but she didn’t answer me and instead moved over to the large wastebasket,” said Hendley. “She had a hand on her throat and appeared to be trying to swallow something.  When I asked again and she didn’t respond, I noticed that she was turning blue and realized she was choking.” 

Hendley immediately called out to supervisory officer Chris Wieneke who was nearby and asked her to call 911 and get some help as he moved over to help White.

Officer Wieneke photo
Palm Beach International supervisory officer Chris Wieneke. (Photo by Albert Eyde)

Having previously witnessed the Heimlich maneuver in safety videos, Hendley ran behind White, wrapped his arms around her just above her waistand started to perform the Heimlich procedure.

“I administered the maneuver three or four times when the object lodged in her throat came out,” said Hendley.

A potential life-threatening disaster, averted.

“The entire event that occurred was handled and de-escalated very quickly,” recalled Wieneke. “It could have had a much different outcome. Fortunately, it went well due to the immediate response of officer Harry Hendley in a critical emergency situation.”

Reflecting on the incident, White said, “I actually remember feeling embarrassed and also feeling very thankful that Harry was helping me. Harry and I have worked together since 2002 when TSA rolled out. I am very grateful that Harry came to my rescue.”

“[Hendley] did not hesitate to come to the assistance of his fellow officer to assist in potentially saving [White’s] life, said security manager Albert Eyde. “His response was swift, decisive, effective and deserving of recognition.”