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Photo: Southwest Airlines

Flight U-turns after human heart discovery

A human heart is left on board a Southwest Airlines flight, forcing the pilot on the following flight to turn around.

A human heart donated for use was accidentally left on a Southwest Airlines aircraft, forcing a Seattle-Dallas flight to make an emergency U-turn, NBC News reports.

The organ has only a short shelf life, prompting the mid-air decision to return to Seattle so the waiting courier there could take the heart to its intended destination.

The organ had been loaded onto Flight 3606 in Sacramento to be picked up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, but it was accidentally left on board.

The Boeing 737-700 then took off from Seattle bound for Dallas with the heart still on the plane, before the pilot made the U-turn over Idaho about 70 minutes into the flight.

A human heart for transplant can be outside a body for just four to six hours between donor and recipient.

But fortunately, in this case, the heart was to be harvested only for its valves, meaning 48 hours of viability until reaching a lab.

“This delay did not affect the tissue transplant. It got to the lab in plenty of time to be used,” Deanna Santana, spokeswoman for Sierra Donor Services, which organised the donation and delivery, told NBC News. “There was no patient in a hospital waiting for a valve.”

Hearts used only for their valves are usually put into cargo without someone accompanying it, she explained.

It was not such a quick turnaround for the passengers, however, who finally reached Dallas more than seven late.

“Passengers were happy to be inconvenienced, even horrifically inconvenienced, to save someone’s life,” said Dr Andrew Gottschalk, an orthopaedist who was on the flight. “But that wasn’t the case here.”

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