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 on Monday in a helicopter crash that also killed the pilot, officials said.
The helicopter departed the clinic in Jacksonville around 5.45am local time but never arrived at the Gainesville hospital, Shands at University of Florida, about 100km to the southwest, said Kathy Barbour, a spokeswoman for Mayo, which is based in Rochester, Minnesota.
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 19km northeast of Palatka, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen. The town is about 65km east of Gainesville and about 72km south of Jacksonville.
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, densely forested area away from roads. The National Transportation Safety Board also was investigating. the incident.
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 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 wreckage was spotted around noon by another helicopter, said sheriff's Lieutenant Russ Burke. Debris was scattered around the crash site, which was hidden from the road by rows of pine trees.