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Mayo Clinic Honors Fallen Florida Heart Surgeon and Technician

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Mayo Clinic in Florida employees are honoring the memories of a heart surgeon and a technician who died when the helicopter carrying them to retrieve a heart crashed last year.

Federal investigators are still working to determine what doomed the helicopter flown Dec. 26, 2011, by E. Hoke Smith of SK Logistics in St. Augustine.

Smith was flying Dr. Luis Bonilla and organ procurement technician David Hines from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville to a Gainesville hospital when the helicopter crashed in a remote, wooded area in Clay County. All three men died in the crash.

The entire transplant procurement team in Jacksonville gathered Wednesday to remember their lost colleagues, Mayo Clinic officials said.

"They are remembered every day by the patients whose lives they touched and by their colleagues who are carrying on their work," said Dr. Bill Rupp, CEO of Mayo Clinic in Florida.

The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the crash. According to a preliminary NTSB report, the helicopter struck several trees as it crashed near Green Cove Springs in overcast, somewhat misty conditions, but Smith made no distress call.

The investigation into what caused the crash may take up to a year and a half to complete.

Hines' daughter filed a wrongful death lawsuit in January against Smith's estate and SK Logistics. Both the Hines and Bonilla families have reached a confidential settlement, said Robert Spohrer, the attorney for the Hines family.

The lawsuit, which sought more than $15,000 in damages, said the helicopter should never have taken off because weather conditions and visibility were too poor. A portion of the lawsuit against Abraham Holdings LLC, which owned the Bell 206B helicopter that Smith was flying, remains unsettled, Spohrer said.

The Florida Times-Union reports (http://bit.ly/TqOpYt) that SK Logistics filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy two months after the crash. The company listed about $1.3 million in assets and $8.9 million in debt in its Feb. 22 filing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida.

___

Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.



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