Fatal crash ends heart flight

A helicopter flying to Shands Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida, to collect a heart for transplant crashed on 26 December, resulting in the deaths of all onboard. Two members of Mayo Clinic’s transplant team lost their lives in the accident, along with the helicopter's pilot.

A helicopter flying to Shands Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida, to collect a heart for transplant crashed on 26 December, resulting in the deaths of all onboard. Two members of Mayo Clinic’s transplant team lost their lives in the accident, along with the helicopter's pilot. The men were named as pilot Hoke Smith, cardiac surgeon Dr Luis Bonilla, and organ procurement technician David Hines.

The helicopter had taken off at 05:45 hrs from Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville. According to a Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, the crash site was in a remote, densely forested area around 12 miles northeast of Palataka.

Dr William Rupp, vice-president of Mayo Clinic and chief executive officer of Mayo Clinic in Florida, said in a statement: “Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those involved in this tragedy. This is a great loss to the Mayo Clinic family and the transplant community.”

John Noseworthy, president and chief executive officer of Mayo Clinic, commented: “As we mourn this tragic event, we will remember the selfless and intense dedication they brought to making a difference in the lives of our patients. We recognise the commitment transplant teams make every day in helping patients at Mayo Clinic and beyond. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families.”

The Bell 206 helicopter was operated by SK Jets of St Augustine, which was founded by Hoke in 1997. The company said: “The focus of our efforts at this time is to attend to the needs of our passengers, crew and their families and work with the [National Transportation Safety Board] and local public safety officials to determine the cause and extent of the accident.”

Local news reports stated that due to time-limited viability, the donated heart could no longer be used and the patient was placed back on the waiting list.

Image: cardiac surgeon Dr Luis Bonilla and organ procurement technician David Hines, members of the Mayo Clinic transplant team who lost their lives in the crash. Courtesy Mayo Clinic