FAA: Helicopter carrying 3 crashes in north Fla

December 26, 2011 - 2:08 PM

PALATKA, Fla. (AP) — Two Mayo Clinic employees flying to the University of Florida to harvest organs were killed when their helicopter crashed Monday in north Florida, officials said.

The helicopter departed the Jacksonville hospital around 5:45 a.m. but never arrived in Gainesville, about 60 miles west, said Kathy Barbour, a spokeswoman for the Mayo Clinic.

The employees' names were not released because relatives hadn't been notified.

"Mayo is working internally to support the family and employees of those lost in this most unfortunate tragedy," Barbour said.

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

A message left for a Clay County Sheriff's Office spokesman was not immediately returned. Bergen said she had been told neither the employees nor the pilot survived.

The National Transportation Safety Board also was investigating.

FAA records show the helicopter is owned by SK Jets. An employee who declined to give her name said the St. Augustine company had no immediate information.

The crash and others like it illustrate that just transporting the organs for transplants can be a delicate endeavor.

In 1990, a surgeon and an assistant flying to pick up a donor heart for a patient were killed in a plane crash in New Mexico. And in 2007, a twin-engine plane carrying a team of surgeons and technicians — along with a set of lungs on ice being brought to a patient already prepped for surgery — crashed into the choppy waters of Lake Michigan.

Doctors ultimately got another set of donor lungs that were transplanted into the patient.