December 27, 2011 in Nation/World

Heart surgeon killed in crash

Doctor was carrying organ for transplant
Jennifer Kay Associated Press
 

MIAMI – A surgeon and technician from a Mayo Clinic in Florida flying across the northern corner of the state to retrieve a heart for transplant died Monday in a helicopter crash that also killed the pilot, officials said.

The helicopter departed the clinic in Jacksonville around 5:45 a.m. but never arrived at the Gainesville hospital, Shands at University of Florida, about 60 miles to the southwest, said Kathy Barbour, a spokeswoman for Mayo, which is based in Rochester, Minn.

Killed were heart surgeon Dr. Luis Bonilla, procurement technician David Hines and the pilot, whose name wasn’t released.

The heart they were going to pick up could not be used in another transplant because its viability expired, and the patient who had been scheduled to receive it is waiting for a new organ, Mayo Clinic spokesman Layne Smith said.

The helicopter went down about 12 miles northeast of Palatka, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

Clay County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher Myron White confirmed the three dead but had no more information to release about the crash in the remote, forested area away from roads. The National Transportation Safety Board also was investigating.

The National Weather Service in Jacksonville reported that there was light fog with overcast conditions in the area but no rain.

“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,” John Noseworthy, Mayo Clinic president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We recognize the commitment transplant teams make every day in helping patients at Mayo Clinic and beyond. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families.”

Gary Robb, a Kansas City aviation attorney specializing in helicopter safety, said the Bell 206 helicopter usually has an older engine no longer installed in new helicopters.

“We’ve seen a number of instances where that engine simply failed,” Robb said.

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