We remember: Honoring those lost in transplant team tragedy, 15 years later

June 2, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

This weekend will mark the 15th anniversary of a tragic event that killed members of the organization’s transplant team.

On June 4, 2007, six faculty and staff members were returning from Milwaukee — where they had retrieved a pair of lungs for transplantation in Ann Arbor — when their Survival Flight plane crashed into Lake Michigan.

The team members aboard the flight were:

  • David Ashburn, M.D., a fellow in cardiac surgery
  • Richard Chenault II, transplant donation specialist, U-M Transplant Program
  • Dennis Hoyes, Marlin Air pilot
  • Rick LaPensee, transplant donation specialist, U-M Transplant Program
  • Bill Serra, Marlin Air pilot
  • Martin Spoor, M.D., U-M cardiac surgeon

“We will never forget those selfless team members who lost their lives while doing their best to save another,” said Christopher Sonnenday, M.D., M.H.S., U-M Health Transplant Center director. “David, Richard, Dennis, Rick, Bill and Martin will always be in the hearts and minds of those who work at Michigan Medicine.”

“Those six team members symbolize all that is great about our organization,” said Mark Lowell, M.D., medical director of Survival Flight. “No matter the risks, we all work together to try and improve the lives of those we serve. We will forever honor the sacrifice of our brave team members.”

Honoring those we lost

Please join colleagues, friends and family as the organization honors the memory of those who were lost.

At 11 a.m. on Friday morning, June 3, members of the cardiovascular intensive care unit will launch balloons outside the Frankel CVC. It’s a tradition that has been carried out on every anniversary of the crash.

The transplant team and others will also gather at 8 a.m. on Monday morning, June 6, at the “Rotations” memorial outside University Hospital. That will come two days after a flower wreath is placed at the memorial.

For those who work remotely, the team will also gather briefly at noon on Monday, June 6, via this link:

Finally, Survival Flight will be using the anniversary as a way to refocus on its commitment to safety.

“Every year, we honor those we lost by holding a Safety Day, when we refocus on what we can do to ensure our crew members, faculty, staff and patients are as safe as possible while traveling,” said Donna Robinson, director of Survival Flight and SWAT at Michigan Medicine.

In the past, Survival Flight has even invited flight teams from across the region to join them for workshops, speakers and other events on the anniversary — though COVID-19 precautions have put that on hold for a few years.

“Safety Day was created as a way to try and make something good out of something tragic,” Robinson said.  “We are committed to the safety of air medicine and dedicate ourselves to the practice of safety in their memory.”

Click here to learn more about those who were lost on June 4, 2007.