A Bell 206 helicopter on a flight to retrieve a heart for a transplant patient crashed in the woods early Monday morning in Jacksonville, Fla., killing the pilot and the two medical workers on board. The crash ignited a fire that burned about 10 acres of forest. The NTSB said there was no distress call from the pilot or any other warning prior to the crash. “It looked like a normal flight,” said NTSB investigator Jose Obregon. About 90 percent of the aircraft was destroyed in the fire, Obregon said, which will make it difficult for investigators to determine a cause. The pilot, E. Hoke Smith, 68, was president and founder of SK Jets, of St. Augustine, a charter service operating seven jets and two helicopters.
Smith had been flying since age 16 and served as a combat pilot in Vietnam, according to his company’s web site. He routinely flew medical missions, especially during the holidays when he gave time off to his staff, his son, Derrick Smith, told The Associated Press. The National Weather Service in Jacksonville reported there was light fog with overcast conditions in the area but no rain when the helicopter went down, according to the AP. The crash occurred before the team reached the donor, and the heart was not recovered. Also killed in the crash were heart surgeon Luis Bonilla and procurement technician David Hines. Both worked for the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.