NTSB releases report in 2011 helicopter crash

Life-saving mission turned deadly in December 2011

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It was supposed to be a lifesaving mission, but instead a Mayo Clinic helicopter flight to Gainesville to pick up a heart for a transplant crashed into the woods in Clay County, killing the pilot and two Mayo Clinic employees.

The initial report said the aircraft was 300 feet above the ground about a mile out from the crash site, Tuesday night, the National Transportation Safety Board released new details on the crash.

One issue in the National Transportation Safety Board factual report said the pilot, Hoke Smith was operating the helicopter in weather conditions not recommended for flying at low altitude levels. Certified Aviation Attorney and pilot, Ed Booth, told Channel 4 Tuesday night their decision to fly was a costly one.

Booth suspects the choice to fly may have been the ultimate reason for the crash.

"The pilot was extremely experienced, a war hero. He flew air craft during Vietnam and died trying to save someone's life," said Booth. "You cannot accomplish this type of mission without some risk and they certainly accepted some of those risks. "

Booth told Channel 4 another possible factor of the crash was growing debt and accusations of a poor safety culture at SK Jets -- the company that operated the five-seat, single engine helicopter.

Records show SK Jets had been losing business and millions of dollars for several years before the accident, but it still had a contract with the Mayo Clinic. Booth said the desire to keep Mayo's business could have added more pressure to fly that night.

"That's an area of tremendous concern, it also mentions three prior accidents suffered by this company. One a fatal helicopter crash at night over the ocean eerily similar to this one," said Booth.

The report also included what was in Smith's system while he was flying, Smith had a blood pressure medicine and Ambien in his system at the time of his death.

"We don't know from this report how much Ambien was in his system we don't know how long prior he ingested the Ambien. Just one of the many issues in this report, investigators looking to determine why the helicopter crashed," said Booth.

Click here to read the NTSB report.

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