Pumped: Donated heart accidentally left on connecting Southwest Airlines flight finally reaches its recipient after plane turned around mid-air
- A donated heart intended for a tissue bank was put in a Southwest Airlines plane’s cargo hold for a flight from Sacramento, California, to Seattle
- The heart was accidentally left in the plane, which then took off for Dallas
- The Dallas flight was forced to turn around mid-air and return to Seattle
- Passengers were said to be concerned the heart was for a transplant patient
- The heart returned to Seattle well within its 48-hour processing window
- The heart valve tissue could be used to save as many as three lives in the future
Southwest Airlines caused palpitations when it failed to offload a donated heart from a connecting flight, resulting in five hour delays after the second flight was forced to turnaround mid-journey.
A courier service delivered the cooler containing the donated heart to California’s Sacramento International Airport, where it was then placed in the cargo hold of a departing December 9 Southwest flight heading to Seattle, where a tissue bank was waiting to collect and process the heart valve tissue.
When the flight landed in Seattle, however, the heart was accidentally left in the plane, which then took off for Dallas.
A donated heart was placed on a Southwest Airlines from Sacramento, California, to Seattle. But when the plane landed, the heart was left on board while the plane traveled to Dallas
The heart was placed in the Southwest plane’s cargo bay in a box labeled just like this one
The Southwest plane was more than an hour into the second flight when its pilot turned the plane around to return to Seattle to drop off the heart.
Passengers aboard the flight were said to have been horrified by the notion that the plane was carrying a heart intended for a transplant patient and, once on the ground again, were later told to deplane due to a supposed mechanical issue, according to the Seattle Times.
All told, the heart was delivered to the Seattle LifeNet Health destination within 12 hours — well within the 48-hour, post-donor death window necessary for heart tissue preservation and processing.
The fact that the heart was being transported so that its valve tissue could be collected for future use, as opposed to a heart transplant patient, was said to have been a relief to some passengers, while others questioned why it was necessary to turn back around for non-critical reasons, as it resulted in a five-hour flight delay.
More than an hour into the Dallas flight, the Southwest pilot turned the plane around to return the heart to Seattle. Southwest’s logo includes a tri-colored heart
It’s not immediately clear why the heart wasn’t offloaded when the plane initially landed in Seattle.
‘It’s clearly labeled that this is human tissue for transplant so that the handlers are aware to treat this very carefully,’ Deanna Santana with Sierra Donor Services, the organ-procurement company which shipped the heart, told CBS Sacramento.
Santana noted that ‘Everybody involved is going to evaluate the process’ to make sure that this incident won’t get repeated.
In statement to CBS Sacramento, Southwest Airlines said, ‘the shipment was delivered to its destination within the window of allotted time by our cargo customer. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and the safe delivery of the precious cargo we transport every day.’
The heart valve tissue has not yet been earmarked for a recipient, but it could be used to save three lives in the future.