August 5, 2021

Son: Pilot routinely went out on medical flights

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Clay County Sheriff's officials create a staging area about 150 yards from wreckage from a helicopter crash in an area west of Green Cove Springs, Fla. Monday afternoon, Dec. 26, 2011. The helicopter was enroute to Gainesville from Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville to receive a heart for a transplant when it crashed. The three people who were in the helicopter died at the scene. (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Kelly Jordan)

MIAMI (AP) — The pilot killed in a helicopter crash while heading to pick up a heart for transplant routinely flew medical transport missions and was a decorated veteran of combat missions in Vietnam, the man’s son said Tuesday.

A heart surgeon and a technician from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville also died in the crash early Monday in remote, dense woods in north Florida.

E. Hoke Smith, 68, founded SK Jets in St. Augustine in 1997 for medical transport flights, his son, Derrick Smith, told The Associated Press. The younger Smith is the company’s general manager.

Smith began flying when he was 16, and he piloted combat missions in Vietnam, his son said. The company’s website lists the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross among his commendations.

Smith routinely flew medical transport missions, particularly during the holidays when he gave his employees time off, his son said.

“He did them quite often. He loved to fly,” Derrick Smith said. “He didn’t want them to have to take time away from their families.”

Derrick Smith referred questions about the crash to the National Transportation Safety Board. An NTSB spokesman said investigators were on the scene in Clay County.

No flight plan had been filed for the helicopter, which was headed to Shands at the University of Florida, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

The helicopter also was carrying heart surgeon Dr. Luis Bonilla and procurement technician David Hines of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.

Mayo Clinic spokesman Layne Smith said the patient who had been scheduled to receive the heart is back on the waiting list for a new organ.

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