As recovery teams scan Lake Michigan near Milwaukee, searching for the remains of the six men who died trying to transport an organ to save someone else, they are remembered by those who knew them best as mentors and "wonderful, caring human beings."
Members of the University of Michigan survival flight team who were killed while transporting an organ yesterday included two doctors and two transplant specialists.
"They were all wonderful, caring human beings who were dedicated to the care of very ill patients," said Dr. Robert Kelch at the University of Michigan.
They were working on behalf of a critically ill patient awaiting a double-lung transplant, and they flew from Michigan to Milwaukee to retrieve the donated organ.
Five minutes into their return flight the Cessna Citation and its precious cargo reported a loss of control and plunged into 50 feet of water.
The loss of specialist Richard Chenault stunned the community of Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor, where he doubled as a track coach and was slated to receive coach of the year honors last night.
"He was more than just a coach," said Principal Brian Wolcott. "He was a father figure. He was a mentor."
Michigan's survival flight team averages one organ transport every three days, and members were said to be well aware of the risks in the often frantic rush to turn donations into life gifts.
The prospective recipient in this case was on the operating table awaiting the transplant when the plane went down. He was returned to intensive care last night, and work at the hospital continued uninterrupted despite the tragic crash.
Kelch described those left to carry on as people with "tears in their eyes" who are "delivering the highest quality of care in this nation as we speak."