Transplant Team Killed, Organ Lost in Plane Crash

Associated Press
Wednesday, June 6, 2007

ANN ARBOR, Mich., June 5 -- The patient lay on the operating table, prepped for transplant surgery. In the air over Lake Michigan on Monday, a twin-engine plane sped his way, carrying a team of surgeons and technicians, along with a donor organ on ice.

The plane never made it, crashing into the lake's choppy waters and killing all six people aboard. Now the critically ill patient could become the accident's seventh fatality.

"It was a very sad moment in the operating room" when word was received that the plane had gone down on its way from Milwaukee, said Jeffrey Punch, chief of transplant surgery at the University of Michigan Health System hospital in Ann Arbor.

Hospital officials and organ-donation authorities would not identify the transplant patient other than to say he is a man, and would not say what type of organ he was awaiting, citing medical privacy rules. But one of the doctors killed was a cardiac surgeon, suggesting the patient was about to get a new heart or lungs.

He was put back on the waiting list for another organ and was reported to be "very critically ill." Authorities would not comment on his chance of finding another organ in time.

The Cessna 550 Citation crashed about 5 p.m., shortly after takeoff on a flight to Ann Arbor that should have taken 42 minutes. One of the pilots reported severe difficulty steering the plane because of trouble with its trim system, which controls bank and pitch, said John Brannen, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.

He said the pilot had signaled an emergency and was making a left turn and heading back to the Milwaukee airport when the plane went down. The cause of the crash is under investigation. Brannen said the plane's safety and maintenance records were not immediately available.

The team included two veterans, cardiac surgeon Martinus "Martin" Spoor and transplant donation specialist Richard Chenault II, who had flown dozens of such missions. Also on the team was David Ashburn, a physician-in-training in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, and Richard LaPensee, another transplant donation specialist. Pilots Dennis Hoyes and Bill Serra also were killed.

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