Southwest Airlines Flight Turns Around After Human Heart Left Onboard

A Southwest airlines plane flying from Seattle to Dallas was forced to turn around midflight after the crew found a human heart onboard that should have been delivered to a Seattle hospital.

Flight 3606 turned back over Idaho and flew back to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to return the heart, which should have been taken off a previous flight on December 9.

Southwest said the "life-critical cargo shipment" onboard the aircraft was intended for a Seattle hospital.

"Therefore, we made the decision to return to Seattle as it was absolutely necessary to deliver the shipment to its destination in the Seattle area as quickly as possible," a spokesperson confirmed to Newsweek.

After the plane landed at the Seattle Airport, the aircraft was taken out of service because of an unrelated mechanical issue. Passengers boarded a different plane to continue their journey to Dallas. The error caused a delay of around five hours.

"We sincerely regret the inconvenience to the customers impacted by the delay, and we are following up with them with a gesture of goodwill to apologize for the disruption to their travel," an airline spokesperson said.

"Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers, and the safe delivery of the precious cargo we transport every day."

It is unclear if the heart was urgently needed for an operation, or what what its specific destination was.

Katherine Pliska, a spokeswoman for LifeCenter Northwest, the organization that facilitates the transfer of organs for transplants in Washington and California, confirmed that it did not use commercial flights to deliver hearts for transplants. "We only use private flights," Pliska told The Seattle Times. "There's a time limit to get where it needs to go."

Dr. Andrew Gottschalk, who was onboard the delayed flight, described the incident as a "horrific story of gross negligence. The heart in question traveled from California to Washington, to the other side of Idaho, and back to Washington," he told The Seattle Times.

The mishap occurred a few days after another Southwest airlines flight overran the runway as it was trying to land at Hollywood Burbank Airport in California.

None of the 112 passengers and five crew members were injured after Flight 278 from Oakland landed on a collapsible portion of runway, which was meant to prevent planes from sliding farther on the runway, airline spokeswoman Brandy King told CNBC.

A Southwest Airlines jet sits on the runway at Philadelphia International Airport after it was forced to land after an engine failed, in Philadelphia, on April 17. A Southwest Airlines flight from Seattle to Dallas had to turn around midlight after the crew found a human heart onboard. DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images