Human Heart Left on Southwest Flight Makes It to Hospital in Nick of Time
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
An organ donor services organization is re-evaluating its protocols after a human heart being flown to Seattle on Southwest Airlines was left on board the plane.
Instead of being removed from the cargo hold in Seattle, its final destination, the donated heart valve tissue was left on the plane by accident. It’s a situation many frustrated flyers have faced with lost baggage, but a minor inconvenience escalates to a grave situation when it happens with donated organs.
The heart valve tissue was packed on ice and taken from a courier at Sacramento International Airport (SMF) on Sunday and flown to Seattle (SEA) on Southwest flight 3606, which landed at SEA at 2:15pm. Baggage handlers mistakenly left the carefully packed box in the aircraft cargo area, and flight 3606 took off at 3:02pm for its next destination, Dallas. It wasn’t until more than an hour into the Dallas flight that the pilot turned the plane around to deliver the heart back to Seattle, causing a five-hour delay for the passengers heading to Dallas Love Field (DAL). FlightRadar24 shows the pilot making a U-turn over southeastern Idaho.
“Everybody involved is going to evaluate the process, they’re going to make sure what happened and make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Deanna Santana of Sierra Donor Services, which organized the valve donation, told CBS News Sacramento. “It’s very clearly labeled that this is a gift. It’s clearly labeled that this is human tissue for transplant so that the handlers are aware to treat this very carefully.”
The donor’s family was kept apprised of the delay.
Southwest confirmed that the heart tissue was left on the plane. “During Flight #3606 with scheduled service from Seattle to Dallas this past Sunday evening, we learned of a life-critical cargo shipment onboard the aircraft that was intended to stay in Seattle for delivery to a local hospital,” Southwest said in a statement to TPG. “Therefore, we made the decision to return to Seattle to ensure the shipment was delivered to its destination within the window of time allotted by our cargo customer.”
The airline also said that once on the ground in Seattle, the plane had to be taken out of service due to a separate maintenance issue, prolonging the delay for its Dallas-bound customers. Southwest has apologized to those passengers and offered them a “gesture of goodwill.” “Nothing is more important to us than the Safety of our Customers and the safe delivery of the precious cargo we transport every day,” Southwest’s statement continued.
Luckily, this story has a happy ending. As heart valve tissue has a 48-hour travel window if properly stored, the pilots were able to deliver the heart in the nick of time. It landed back in Seattle at 5:56pm, having lost more than three and a half hours on the detour to Dallas.
This post has been updated to clarify that the donor’s family was alerted about the delay, not a recipient’s family.
Featured image by Marcus Hessenberg / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees