Film crew re-enacts airborne birth for TV

Now-5-month-old baby girl will appear on 'Amazing Babies'

Posted: Tuesday, May 03, 2005

KETCHIKAN - A 5-month-old Metlakatla girl is the subject of cable channel Discovery Health's "Amazing Babies" program, which sent a crew to film a re-enactment of her birth on an airplane.

"We go all over the country doing quirky ... vignettes about interesting births," director Chris Shelton said. "What makes (the stories) fun is the local color and incidents."

The show, filmed last week, is set to air in the fall.

With the beautiful scenery, the exotic Alaska location and the fact that a baby was born while flying in a small floatplane, he said, the segment on the birth of Isabelle Chinuhuk likely will be popular.

"I'm willing to bet it will be one of the highlights of the season," he said.

Isabelle was born Dec. 26 on a Pacific Airways DeHavilland Beaver heading from Metlakatla to Ketchikan. All the participants in the actual birth are portrayed in the recreation, including the pilot, doctors and parents - all except the newborn, who was played by a doll.

"I can tell you the Oscars aren't in my future," said mom Jenifer Chinuhuk, relating the filming experience.

However, she said, it was interesting to "give birth" again on a Pacific Air plane, surrounded by the same people as the first time, but with the addition of a camera operator and a director urging her to scream.

"It makes you look at TV in a whole other light," she said. "It was pretty surreal."

The first time around, she said, she didn't have time to think or observe. Through the re-creation, she heard the other participants' viewpoints and observations.

"I was like, "Wow. I don't remember that,"' she said.

Living through the event again also made her realize how alone she was during the experience, Chinuhuk said. Her husband, Jamie Chinuhuk, had planned to be present in the delivery room along with other family members. But he missed out on the experience.

Some of the scenes were hyped for Hollywood purposes, she said, but the plane scenes were similar to the reality.

"I want to see how it turned out. How they put all the different angles together, how they spliced it," she said. "And there are parts of it that I don't want to see."

Pilot Randy Sullivan, who was flying when Isabelle was born, was interviewed for the show in addition to flying for the re-created scenes. The crew filmed some takeoffs and landings at the Metlakatla floatplane dock, he said, and then shot several takes of Metlakatla ambulance crews loading and unloading Jenifer Chinuhuk, who was wearing a fake "belly pack."

Sullivan said the crew then asked for a couple "dry runs," where they rehearsed the birth - using a doll. They then did some "wet runs," he said, and coated the fake baby with jam.

Mike Rhodes of Pacific Air said that after the real Isabelle was born, he received telephone calls from people as far away as Australia who were interested in the unusual birth.

"It was really strange how it spread around the globe," he said.

Jenifer Chinuhuk said she and her husband debated for a long time over whether they should agree to film the re-creation, and in the end they decided to go ahead with it for Isabelle's sake.

"It's something that makes Isabelle different," she said. "Later on, we can show her the video, and say, 'The stork didn't bring you, but you truly did fall from heaven.'"

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